Michael Powell moved to Portland in 1979 to join his father, Walter, at a rapidly expanding used bookstore called Powell’s Books. No one, except perhaps Michael, foresaw the bright future for' the bookstore that has become a semantic superpower in the book/publishing world.
He spent the next 20 years developing and expanding Powell's in Portland, as well as helping to cultivate the local literary community. His first major contribution to the Portland arts scene came in the form of significant seed money for the new Portland Arts & Lecture, Inc.
Because of Michael’s vision, Powell’s Books has intentionally become reader-centered. In addition to his literary vision, Michael helped shape the model that made Portland one of the most livable cities in the U.S.A. Michael’s energy has gone into civic organizations such as the World Affairs Council, Port of Portland, Association for Portland Progress, Metropolitan Arts Commission, Multnomah County Library, Pacific Northwest Booksellers Assoc., American Booksellers Assoc., Portland Public Schools Foundation, Portland State University Library Advisory board, and SMART (Start Making a Reader Today) program, which he was instrumental in founding.
Powell’s has been at the center of every significant free speech issue in Portland over the last 20 years, lending a large hand to defeat anti-freedom legislation. Michael made sure Powell’s was a leading bookstore behind the petition to rescind Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act. (Section 215 forces libraries and bookstores to release the names and book preferences of patrons). Michael has been recognized with awards on numerous occasions for his significant civic contributions.
In July 2010, Michael turned over leadership of Powell's to his daughter Emily, who carries on the legacy of family-owned Powell's Books. Michael continues to be involved with the company, getting back to the part of the business he loves – the books.
Michael joins the Friends of History board in the summer of 2013 as Treasurer.