In a sign that no bricks-and-mortar bookstore, even one with a strong online presence, is immune from today’s economic conditions, 40-year-old Powell’s Books in Portland laid off 31 employees yesterday. A press release stated that the decision to reduce the workforce was based on changing consumer behavior—how, where, and what people read—and on an industry-wide decline in new book sales, rising healthcare costs, and the economy. The announcement was made by Powell's newly appointed president Emily Powell in conjunction with her father, company founder Michael Powell.

Although the company has seen a number of changes since its founding in 1971, the release said that adverse conditions never lasted more than two consecutive years. At this time, however, corporate leadership expects these trends to continue for several years. “I feel it is critical to make some very difficult adjustments at this time, to address our current reality and to prepare the company for success in the future, a future that looks very different than our business today,” said Emily Powell in a prepared statement.

Powell declined to answer questions submitted by PW regarding the layoffs, the possible closing of stores, or other changes at the bookstore at this time. However, a story posted yesterday afternoon by Sarah Mirk at the Portland Mercury’s Blogtown Web site said that none of the layoffs came from management and that they represent 7% of the unionized workforce represented by ILWU Local 5.

Mirk also posted an e-mail that went to Powell’s employees about the layoffs. It stated that a second phase, or “bumping” (the displacement of a junior worker by a senior worker), will begin at the end of the week. “Bumping is a complicated process to work through and will 
take some time. Some staff members who were not laid off initially may
be displaced in this process.” In addition, the staff e-mail said that Powell’s will institute a pay freeze for non-bargaining unit employees starting July 1 and a benefit reduction.