The Argo Bookshop is located at 1841-A Saint-Catherine St. W. and is the oldest English-language indie bookstore in the city of Montreal. We got to speak to co-owner Adele-Elise Prevost, who in 2017, purchased the shop with friend Moti Lieberman.
What is your business called and what does it do?
The Argo Bookshop is the oldest English-language indie bookstore in the city of Montreal. We sell new (i.e. not used) books of all kinds – classic literature, new bestsellers, sci-fi and fantasy, mystery, history, poetry, kids’ books, you name it, but two of our specialities are speculative fiction and Japanese literature. We also host bookish events (book launches, poetry nights, book clubs, etc.), both in-store and online, and storytimes for kids.
What made you want to do this work?
I’ve always loved books and reading, and I’m a community organizer at heart, so running a bookstore is a perfect fit for me! Not to say that it didn’t come into my life in a surprising way. I never expected I’d be doing this – it’s only when my friend Moti told me back in 2017 that the Argo was up for sale, a store I had shopped at since I was a CEGEP student and that was such a beloved part of Montreal’s literary community, that I knew I wanted to help it thrive in the next phase of its journey.
What problem did you want to solve with the business?
A number of people have told us that brick-and-mortar bookstores are dying, or that nobody reads anymore, but they couldn’t be more wrong. Most of our customers are young and passionate about books, and we actually expanded into a space twice the size of our original location back in 2021.
Who are your clientele/demographics?
All kinds of people shop at the Argo! I would say our largest demographic groups are younger people, say 18-25; long-time regulars, some of whom have been shopping here since the 1970s; and tourists.
How does your business make money? How does it work?
We decided right from the start that we should focus on new books, curate our selection based on things we were passionate about, and keep up the Argo’s role as a community space by running events every week. I think we manage to stay in business and to grow because we’re always building relationships with our customers and our community. It’s not a huge money-making operation, of course, but we didn’t get into this for the money – it’s about connecting with people and sharing the love of books, and enough people resonate with that that it keeps us comfortably going.
Where in the city can we find your profession?
We’re at 1841-A Sainte-Catherine Street West (half a block east from our old location), but we also deliver all over the island, and you can shop online!
What is the best question a prospective customer could ask a member of your profession when comparing services? Give the answer as well.
I think the most exciting and valuable question we get asked is: “What books do you recommend?” This is a great jumping-off point for a conversation about the customer’s interests and preferences, and it lets them get to know who we are as a bookstore, too. In my experience, people who ask that question almost always go home happy with a new book or two.
What is the best part about what you do? What is the worst part?
My favourite part of the job is the joy of finding just the right book for someone! When a customer comes up to me not knowing quite what they’re looking for, and I try to get a sense of their interests and ask them a few questions, and then I pull a book off the shelf that makes their eyes light up – that’s one of the best feelings in the world. The worst part for me is all of the paperwork that running a small business requires! It’s been a huge learning curve, and I’m not done learning.
What is your favourite joke about your own profession?
A bit of a groaner, but one I can’t help but say every now and then: when a customer says something like “There are so many good books, I just want to buy them all!” I reply with “Tell me about it – I bought a whole bookstore!”
Where can we follow you?
PAY IT FORWARD: What is another local business that you love?
Picks burgers around the corner from us! Family-owned, been around for years, best burgers in Montreal in my opinion.