Reports of Cameron’s Books death have been somewhat exaggerated. Last April, Portland’s oldest bookstore did indeed lose its longtime brick-and-mortar location (and iconic signage) on Southwest 3rd Avenue. COVID shutdowns and ever-worsening area violence forced the store’s current shepherd, Crystal Zingsheim, to surrender the keys 18 months after negotiating a stay of eviction from the building’s landlord, who also owns upstairs adult venue Golden Dragon.
At the last moment, however, city officials stepped in to protect the shop’s valuable inventory.
“When the press reported we had only six days left,” recalls Zingsheim, “our patrons reached out to the mayor’s office, and Ted Wheeler told the strip club’s owners to back off their city’s legacy bookstore and, you know, not be such bullies.”
Governmental intervention not only allowed Zingsheim to safeguard her daunting stock, but local officials working in tandem with the Lewis & Clark Small Business Legal Clinic, Portland State University Business Advisory Board, and Oregon Native American Chamber found an impossibly picturesque landing spot for the 84-year-old bookstore’s massed troves of aging media: the floors above Union Station. The historic railroad depot seems to be ideal housing for a vast array of rare books and vintage magazines in just about every way but one.
“It’s not zoned for retail sales,” Zingsheim sighs, “which I didn’t know until a bit late in the game, but I never really intended on running the shop as it had been prior.”
Alongside hand-scanning page after page for her eventual goal of a virtual archive accessible to all, she’s transitioning the business toward a second life as a nonprofit resource—distributing old floor stock to schools and prisons and instituting a subscription membership program for creative professionals.
“Basically, we facilitate research,” she explains. “Wieden+Kennedy had been [located] a stone’s throw from the shop, so designers would come for inspiration or seek out past material showing the color palette of the times. In [period] movies and television, where there’s a magazine or calendar that place-sets the era, the set designer got it from us more often than not.”
By some accounts, Cameron’s repository holds the most pre-bar code periodicals outside of the Library of Congress, and Zingsheim laughs, “We’re the only ones that deal in smut. People think books will be around for centuries and write different things than they would in magazines, which are expected to be disposable. You can hear how people actually respond to global happenings like pandemics and wars. Magazines are a much truer telling of the times—more candor, more innocence. They’re snapshots of the cultural heartbeat.”
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