Argo Bookshop was founded in 1966 by John George and was initially located on the south side of Ste-Catherine St. West, right across the street from its current location. It was originally named the Argonaut Bookshop. According to records recently discovered, on its first day of business, there were a total of three sales, one of them being The Poems of Robert Service, for the princely sum of $1.95. A fire the following year forced the shop’s relocation to its present spot. This old store was a milliner’s shop in the 1930s and 40s and served both as a commercial establishment and a residence for the owner (evidence of this can still be seen in the very back of the store where kitchen cabinets are still to be found).
Sales in the first years of Argo’s existence were meager, but Mr. George (trained as a librarian) had passion for his little bookshop and was more interested in providing personalized service than in making large profits; a mission that holds true to the present day. The store was one of the first to be accredited in 1982. The original certificate of accreditation, now quite yellowed, can be seen behind the cash. Mr. George became ill in the fall of 2005, but continued to work full time up until the morning of his admission to hospital in January of 2006. John Wyse and Jim McPhail, both longstanding employees of the shop, continued running Argo until April 2009. Upon their retirement, Chris Clarke became the new owner. He revamped the store’s interior without taking away any of its old-world ambiance, computerized its operation, and set out to update its inventory, ensuring the Argo’s continuation.
In April 2010, with the arrival of a beautiful baby boy, Chris Clarke’s heart was moved towards a new vocation: To become a Presbyterian minister. With his mind steadfastly made up in December of the same year, for months into 2011 he posted the store’s status as For Sale. While many eager and/or well-to-do individuals showed interest, none confirmed a desire to take on the store.
In the summer of 2011, a university undergraduate named J.P. Karwacki would return to the Argo again and again to propose different ways in which he alone could take on the store, but with each successive visit, the task seemed increasingly insurmountable alone. It was only once his friends Jesse Eckerlin and Meaghan Acosta, who he had met in a class on James Joyce’s Ulysses in the fall of 2009, moved back to Montreal to work, live and create that J.P. was able to propose the acquisition of the store to them. Together, with the help of Chris Clarke, they were able to take on the store and resolve themselves to keeping it running with the same mandate of quality over quantity.