Is Portland Not the Best City on Earth?

Over at the Huffington Post, Alison Stein Wellner asks the confusing question: Is New York City Not the Best Place on Earth? I had to read the title several times trying to determine if this was ironic in the Chandler from Friends sort of way — Is New York City NOT the best place on earth? And then Ross would say, “Shyah!” Or was she asking a sincere question — Might New York Not be the Best City on Earth? In any case, it turns out that we have a bookstore called Powell’s that kicks ass all over The Strand.

Ms. Wellner’s qualifications for best city are as follows, “1) bagels; 2) pizza; 3) ethnic cuisine; 4) museums; 5) bookstores.” Under those criteria, Portland, along with Phoenix, Montreal, and Memphis score, “a single A-plus and a string of Bs and Cs.” Well, excuse me, to be read, of course, as Steve Martin would have said it.

Have at it in comments over bagels and pizza and whatever. To Ms. Wellner, I say, yes, good. Moving on. So sorry you didn’t have a beer.

And yes Powell’s is a great place, and you’ll find me there often, but is it not my favorite bookstore in town? No. I mean, yes. I prefer the smaller indies, Annie Bloom’s and St. John’s Booksellers and (okay) the Powell’s on Hawthorne. I like to browse brand new books and I find the browsing hard at Powell’s.

And just because Powell’s is enormous, and the others are small doesn’t really mean Powell’s has any more access to in print titles than St. John’s Booksellers. In fact, they order from the exact same place, so if your local, small indie bookstore doesn’t have a title in stock, they can order it and have it to you within a day.

Yes, I was an indie bookseller for five years. Yes, I have Powell’s envy, okay? But, for the record, I have no NYC envy. Don’t have a cow, man.

5 Comments so far

  1. Michael M. (unregistered) on January 29th, 2008 @ 10:06 am

    Well, those are some odd qualifications, but the whole notion of "Best City on Earth" is odd so I guess we have come up with our own rationalizations for why we like (or don’t like) where we live.

    What do I miss most about NYC? Not the museums or landmarks or breathtaking beauty of the place, because those are things I can revisit anytime I can make a trip back east. I do miss the bagels — the other day I wanted to grab a bagel & cream cheese on the way to the movies, and was once again frustrated by the dearth of options in PDX. I miss the $1 cafe con leche available at any Dominican, Puerto Rican or Cuban establishment that litter the city, coffee that is every bit as good as Stumptown lattes at one-third the price. I miss DINERS! OMG, do I miss diners! Breakfast specials for $4.99. I miss the diversity, I miss walking to the supermarket and hearing at least three languages as a matter of course. Oh, and I miss the fact that everywhere I lived in Manhattan, I had at least two supermarkets within a 1/4 mile, plus numerous Korean deli’s and bodegas for convenience when I just needed milk or beer. And I miss the fact that I didn’t feel like a weirdo for walking to the supermarket, because that’s what everyone does. Here, it’s a longer walk and I constantly have to ask for an extra bag so that it won’t fall apart in the rain on the way home. (The assumption being, of course, that I’m just going to load the groceries in my gas-guzzling SUV like everyone else at Trader Joe’s.) In short, I miss the density and the lifestyle that said density affords. NYC is geared to pedestrians. PDX is geared to drivers. I miss the snow and in the winter I miss the sun.

  2. Wacky Mommy (unregistered) on January 29th, 2008 @ 2:20 pm


    and the dinos at the museum of natural history.

  3. Alison Stein Wellner (unregistered) on January 30th, 2008 @ 2:07 pm

    This is all very interesting…makes me want to check out the other bookstores you mentioned on my next visit, which will hopefully not make me mroe depressed.
    Just want to clarify something: I certainly wouldn’t say that all of the cities you mentioned –including Portland–have ONE THING and ONE THING ONLY going for them.
    My point was more about New York having a nice even mix of "just as good or better" in the (rather arbitrary and totally idiosyncratic) categories I picked.

  4. melissa lion (unregistered) on January 31st, 2008 @ 8:46 am

    Thanks, everyone for your comments. I have family in NYC but I haven’t been back in several years. I’m so in love with Portland, it’s hard for me to remember there’s life outside.

    Well, Alison, I hope you return and when you do, look me up, I’ll take you out. I meant it when I said, so sorry you didn’t have a beer.

    We can all have our favorite cities. Here’s to everyone having the opportunity to live in a place they love.

  5. whimsy2 (unregistered) on February 6th, 2008 @ 9:16 pm

    There ARE good bagels in Portland. Have you been to Kettleman’s on SE 11th?

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