Cameron’s Books in Portland, Oregon and the Fickle Used Magazine Trade
When I needed an article from the February 1963 issue of the defunct travel magazine Holiday, I never questioned where to search for it. I picked up the phone and dialed. “Cameron’s,” said the voice on the other end.
Always afraid of saying something stupid and offending the store’s gruff owner, Jeff Frase, I described the item I needed in as few words as possible. In his dry, distant growl, Frase said, “One minute. Let me check.” He sounded annoyed. He put down the phone. When he returned moments later, he said, “Yeah, we have it.” How much? “Five dollars.”
Back in its heyday, big names wrote for Holiday: Steinbeck, Kerouac, Hemingway, Michener. Holiday was the magazine that commissioned E. B. White’s famous 7,500-word essay, “Here Is New York,” in 1948, an essay later published as a best-selling book. It still stands as some of the best prose on one of the world’s most written-about cities.
Five dollars was a bargain. I asked if I could pick up the magazine on Saturday since I worked all week. Frase said, “It’ll be under the counter in the hold box, under your name.”
Founded by a stamp collector named Robert Cameron in 1938, Cameron’s Books and Magazines is Portland, Oregon’s oldest used bookstore, and it’s one of the largest vintage magazine dealers in America. Cameron’s might be the largest. When asked for the store’s size, Frase said, “Oh, I don’t know. We could eyeball it, but-” He squinted and leaned forward against the counter. “Maybe forty to eighty foot wide at least, about twice that deep. That’s just the front room. There’s the upstairs.” He waved a finger overhead, tracing the seam where the ceiling meets the south wall. A long passage runs there, its dusty wooden boards lined with mid-century crime, sci-fi, and romance mass markets. He pointed to the room behind him. “And then there’s the magazines.”
How many magazines does he have?
“I really couldn’t say. I just usually tell people ‘Thousands and thousands.’”He stood with his arms crossed behind the cash register. “It’s a real niche market.”