Looking at what the used bookstore in KW have to offer


Photo by Yitian Cai

Despite the best efforts of the digital world, physical books refuse to go gently into that good night. Honestly, I’m glad. I tried the whole Kindle thing and, to me, nothing beats the feeling of holding a book in your hands. The tactile feedback of turning the pages, the ability to easily check your progress at any point, and most importantly, the smell. But while physical books have remained and even grown in popularity throughout the years, so have the prices. If you want to diversify your bookshelf without breaking the bank, used bookstores are your best bet.

When looking to buy used books in the Kitchener-Waterloo area, options aren’t exactly plentiful. Aside from Amazon, there are three physical stores that specialize in used books: A Second Look Books & Movies, KW Bookstore and Old Goat Books. But which one is the best?

To give each of these locations a fair shot I had a series of criteria in mind when I made my visits: atmosphere, selection, and website. In terms of selection, I broke the category down even further by administering three tests: the Lord of the Flies test, the “Susan Sontag” test and the Harry Potter test. These are all pretty self-explanatory as I was checking for both availability and price at each of the stores.

                 KW Bookstore

I know when reviewing something you should check your bias at the door, but it wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t tell you that KW Bookstore has been my least favourite bookstore for years. That being said, I did my best to put aside past-experiences and look at it with fresh eyes. What I saw wasn’t bad but it wasn’t extraordinary either.
     In terms of selection, KW Bookstore is the smallest of the three, but I did find that they had a strangely large inventory of German books if that’s your thing. Unfortunately, it failed two of my three tests as there was no Susan Sontag or Lord of the Flies to be found. I did stumble across a copy of the last Harry Potter book, but the price was pretty steep at $20.

The atmosphere was fine. I will say that the smell is the most prominent at KW Bookstore, so if you love the scent of musty books like I do, this is the place to be. While it looks like KW Bookstore does, in fact, have a website, I couldn’t get it to open on any browser. So in that regard, it gets a failing grade. However, they win back a point with music selection; I had a very pleasant time browsing the store while being serenaded by Erykah Badu.

            Old Goat Books

Old Goat Books wins the atmosphere competition, and you will understand why as soon as you walk through the door.
    With shelves shooting at least eight feet from the ground, Old Goat Books is almost overwhelming to peruse.
    The narrow walkways make you feel as though you are surrounded by knowledge and entertainment that could come crashing down upon you at any moment.
    Ironically, despite its appearance bearing striking resemblance to the world J.K. Rowling created, there was nary a copy of Harry Potter to be found.
    It’s the same story for both Lord of the Flies and anything by Susan Sontag.
    Navigating the labyrinth that is Old Goat Books can be challenging, but luckily finding what you are looking for is easy due to the friendly staff and the intuitive website.  
A Second Look Books & Movies

Just like with KW Bookstore, I have a confession to make. A Second Look has been my go-to bookstore for as long as I can remember. Once again I tried to be impartial, but as a human being my bias is always present. I like A Second Look because it’s just so cozy. It has the largest selection of the three bookstores around, and if they don’t have it on the shelves there is a good chance it will be in the back.

The separation of their stock can be little confusing with some books fitting into multiple categories, but if you have any questions one of the knowledgeable staff members will be more than happy to help. Also sometimes there is a dog at the store which gives them an edge in my opinion.
    On the website side of things they take a hit, but it seems as though Old Goat Books is the exception in this category instead of the rule. A Second Look was the only store to pass more than one of my tests with a copy of Lord of the Flies being found easily. Their Harry Potter books were the most expensive, but they were also in pristine condition, so take that as you may.

Before I wrap-up, there is technically one more used bookstore in the area: The Laurier Bookstore.
     While the bookstore that we all know and love does well with atmosphere and website, the selection is a little sparse if you’re not in the market for textbooks. I did, however, find a copy of Trainspotting for the used price of $14.25, so that was pretty cool, I guess. In terms of used bookstores in the area, it really comes down to preference.
     If I had to pick the ‘best’ bookstore it would go to Old Goat Books with very little competition. This is largely due to the website giving it a commanding lead.
    But A Second Look still holds a very special place in my heart. Maybe it’s because they have the largest collection of hardcover Stephen King novels. Maybe it’s because they sell movies as well as books. Or maybe the dog gives them more of an edge than I thought. Either way, don’t let my opinions sway you. Check out these stores and support local businesses. Otherwise, we’ll have to go to Indigo for all of our books, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing but I don’t think any of us make enough money for that.

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