Powell’s Will Lay Off the “Vast Majority” of Its Employees and Extend the Length of Its Closures Due to Coronavirus

In an email, founder Emily Powell writes it is not feasible for the bookstore to pay its staff during the closure: "We run on duct tape and twine on a daily basis."

Powell's City of Books. (Mick Hagland-Skill)

One of Portland's most iconic businesses will be closed for longer than previously announced due to the COVID-19 crisis.

On Sunday night, Powell's announced it would close all five of its locations until March 31. Now, the bookstore says it will close for at least eight weeks, and "very likely longer."

Related: Powell's Shuts Down the City of Books Through the End of the Month.

Last night, the company sent out an email—now posted on the bookstore's website—to its employees announcing the news.

"I wish we could have planned more and prepared you more; the situation simply moved too quickly and our responsibility to act quickly to protect public health felt too dire," writes CEO Emily Powell. "When we do open our stores again, we expect the landscape of Oregon, and all of our abilities to spend money on books and gifts, will have changed dramatically."

The email also announces more layoffs that will affect the "vast majority" of Powell's employees. Powell acknowledges "many people have spoken publicly demanding we pay our employees and extend health insurance for the duration," but says she does not see that as feasible for the company.

"We are simply not that kind of business—we run on duct tape and twine on a daily basis, every day trading funds from one pocket to patch the hole in another," she writes. "When the doors close, every possible cost must stop as well."

ILWU Local 5, the union that represents Powell's employees, says it supports the closure of retail locations but disparages the mass layoffs.

"We do not believe this to be appropriate or fair and in this moment we continue to urge all employers, including Powell's Books, to continue to support workers in any and every way possible," the union wrote in a statement. "The loss of profit is nothing compared to the lifelong trauma such a loss of income and benefits are likely to have for individuals."

The union has set up a worker relief fund and has a Powell's partner link that allows a portion of sales to go to the fund.

Related: McMenamins Lays Off Nearly 3,000 People Due to Coronavirus.

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