Near the corner of Lake Dr and Robinson Rd in the Eastown neighborhood stands Argos Book Shop, giving used books and comics a second chance at life. It’s natural how easily a used bookstore should fit in the indie culture of Grand Rapids’ version of Greenwich Village. The shop has been a main stay in the area since it opened its door in 1975 and is the oldest used book store in the city; giving character and credence to its unique persona.
Jazz and oldies drift softly across the shop guiding shoppers toward the many battered shelves, placed haphazardly across the store, creating nooks and hovels filled with subject specific manuscripts. Old, upholstered chairs sit scattered about, squeezed between the shelves, carts of books, and piles of paperbacks on the floor. Movie posters, comic books and back issues of Life magazine fight for open space on the white plaster walls. Books seem to flow from the walls, beckoning the shopper to pull them from their shelves. The cluttered aisles give off the impression of a book hoarders study combined with a vast personal collection at an estate sale; all transplanted onto the bare wooden shop floor of Argos.
The general disarray of the store may be verboten to those who prefer the cold, calculative and meticulous nature of chain bookstores. But, for those that prefer a far more personal shopping experience, Argos fits the bill perfectly.
The staff is easily approachable and extremely knowledgeable of their stock. People swing nonchalantly by the register with questions ranging from book availability and job openings, to chatting about the latest adaptation of their favorite comic book characters. I easily launched into a litany of questions about the history of the shop, book selection and clientele.
It turns out that the original name of the store was Argosy; named after a combination of the ship used to ferry Jason and the Argonants on their journey to retrieve the golden fleece, and the long running pulp magazine, popular in the 50’s and 60’s. The former owner soon discovered several stores across the country with the same name. In a pre-internet age, he wanted something that would stand out in the bookstore magazines, used to advertise shops at the time. He decided to drop the “y” and Argos was born. The store has stayed with the same name and location since, and prides itself on offering more than its generous selection of gently used books.
The store offers an impressive collection of back issues and current copies of countless
I went to Argos to look for some used copies of Hemmingway and get the feel for the place. The next thing I knew, I was chatting amiably with the owner and had used copies of Kerouac, Bukowski and a vintage issue of a 1943 Life Magazine, tucked under my arm. An hour had unexplainably gone by and I hadn’t even asked about the copy of Old Man in the Sea, I wanted. It seemed like that was the gist of the shop. While the organizational system takes a little getting used to, entering Argos almost guarantees you’ll find the books you never knew you wanted, and just maybe leave with the book you came there for.
If you’re in the mood to wander the shelves of Argos Book Shop, visit them at:
1405 Robinson Rd SE
Grand Rapids, MI 49506
Or, their website http://www.argosbooks.com/index.htm