For centuries, the bookshop has occupied an important niche in civilizations all across the world. In fact, the history of book-selling can be traced back to 300 BC, after the founding of the Alexandria library in Egypt. Not long after, libraries spread to Europe, and vendors responded by fashioning the art of book-selling. Back then, these shops were reserved for the elite, and they sought to indulge the intellectual appetites of philosophers, academics, and Athenian bookies. But books have changed immensely with time, and their content and form have evolved to accommodate an abundance of human interests and curiosities. In the 1400’s, the printing press made it possible to produce books en masse, and bookshops soon became a public commodity. In these shops, an intersection of class, gender, and culture could gather, and they became spaces to unite and nourish communities.
The bookshop is a sacred space—a space where millennia of human knowledge lies in wait among tall shelves and corridors; where culture unravels in stories and prose, and the imaginative escapist seeks refuge amid the pages of her favourite fable. But these shops are today at risk of extirpation, for we have turned our attention to cyberspace, and the community bookstore now rests at times neglected. For many of us bibliophiles, this is an encumbering truth. We yearn for the comforting interiors of the classical community bookshop, but sadly, these shops are getting harder to find.
In Montreal, we have an even more trying task of finding anglophone book stores. Luckily, what still remains of the traditional bookshop can be found in a small selection of community gems:
This downtown jewel is Montreal’s oldest English book store. The shop is located at 1915 Saint-Catherine street, and it offers a quiet escape for bookworms, scholars, and students alike. Argo’s quaint entryway can be easily missed amid Saint-Catherine’s bustling restaurant district, so be sure to keep an eye out for this hidden haven.
While most of its literature is new, the space maintains a cozy ambience that feels much like your classic neighbourhood bookshop. But what makes Argo particularly special is its service to the city’s literary scene: the space hosts regular poetry readings and community events; if you’re looking for an excuse to swing by this Montreal staple, then have a look at the events schedule on their website.
Cheap Thrills made its debut on Bishop street in 1971, but has since moved to its forever-home at 2044 Metcalfe. The store is located in a classic stone-face house just above the refurbished interiors of a classy Mediterranean restaurant. But don’t be fooled by the modernist feel of the building’s lower-levels, because ascending the dollhouse-pink banisters leading up to Cheap Thrills feels like taking a trip back to the 1980s.
While the shop boasts an assemblage of used books—including an impressive variety of academic works—the store also sells records, CDs, and other vintage merchandise. Groove to the tune of 80s vinyl while you skim for your favourite reads, old and new.
Concordia Co-op Bookstore
Our list of community bookshops wouldn’t be complete without this campus marvel. Concordia’s Co-op Bookstore identifies itself as a student-oriented, non-profit alternative to the corporate system. The bookstore was organized around the idea of providing the community with an affordable source for essential reads, and it carries a healthy variety of fiction, non-fiction, and academic literature. The shop also sells artisanal goods, including T-shirts, bags, and other knick-knacks. You can find Concordia’s Co-op Bookstore at 2150 Bishop street.
Encore Books and Records
Encore Books and Records is located in NDG at 5670 Sherbrooke West. It opened in NDG twelve years ago, and has since become a treasured neighbourhood business and community hallmark. The store maintains the largest stock of books on our list, and their collection only continues to grow. Here, one risks losing themselves to hours of thumbing through an eclectic array of literature: from classical works to contemporary reads, Encore Books and Records has it all.
Just as the bookshop’s name suggests, Encore also maintains a variety of albums, records, and other vintage regalia, so don’t miss out on this NDG gem.
Nearly New Books
This quaint and friendly oasis feels like NDG’s best-kept secret. Nearly New Books is located at 5885 Sherbrooke West, and it is everything a community bookshop should aspire to be. The space is hospitable and cozy, and its quaint interiors are rife with wooden corridors and used books in good condition. More importantly, the owner is warm and amicable, and her past affiliation with literature, as well as her affection for books, makes her a bountiful source of information. It also makes her keen to help customers find exactly what they are looking for and she always tries her best to source unusual or scarce works upon request.
QPIRG Alternative Library
While not exactly a bookstore, this organization deserves an honourable mention. QPIRG Concordia opened in August 2018, and the library’s primary focus is on making edgy literature accessible to the public. This expansive space hosts an abundance of radical reads and hard-to-find works. Here, one can find alternative texts on politics, dissent, sex positivity, black feminism, queer literature, activism, and just about anything missed by more mainstream bookshops and libraries. QPIRG also has a section reserved for independent ‘Zines—an utterly unique and hard-to-come-by feature. The space itself is dotted with couches, fairy-lights, and tea stations, giving it a zest of warmth to welcome all who visit.
QPIRG is located at 2100 Guy street in suite 205. All are encouraged to check-out a radical read and enjoy the space.
By Hania Peper