Michael Loubert has owned and operated Old Goat Books in uptown Waterloo since March of 2001.
“It’s the best job in the world,” he said. “I love books, and I like dealing with people, so it’s a good combination.”
As the store’s 20-year anniversary approaches, Loubert has mixed feelings about its significance: “Sometimes it feels like — has it been 20 years? But then I think about all the things that have happened since then … so it’s a significant chunk [of my life]. Almost a third of my life.”
Loubert began his trade ten years earlier, as an employee of A Second Look bookstore in DTK, under the guidance of founders John Poag and Rosemary Tate.
“One of the things they taught was to be selective about the condition of the books you sell. Many, many years ago you could open a store and stuff it full of [worn out] paperbacks, eke out a living. You can’t really do that anymore.”
While the market for books that look like they were drop-kicked out of a moving vehicle may continue to shrink, Loubert said he is still regularly flooded with potential inventory.
“The vast majority [of inventory] comes right through the front door. I turn away the bulk of what comes in, I don’t have a market for it. I get customers who have been in the store more often, sold books to me before, maybe half-dozen regulars who know what they’re doing. It’s always nice to see them come in.”
Loubert’s approach to curating his shelves combines his own preferences with a keen eye for changing tastes. He knows what he likes, and he knows what his customers like as well. This approach has made Old Goat Books both a very welcoming and very personal space.
“It’s not a science. Sometimes I tell people — a book has to speak to me! I’ve been doing this so long, that I don’t know what it is anymore. I’m too close to it, for one thing. You develop a sense of what’s marketable or what’s not, which will vary from year to year. You develop a sense of what’s cool, what’s interesting, and what’s not.”
When asked to name the most interesting thing he could find while digging through stacks of books, Loubert lit up: “Sure, a first-edition copy of The Hobbit! Worth about $150,000, published back in the 1930s with a print run that was initially really small,” he said.
He further speculated on what he would do in such a circumstance, a hypothetical response that speaks to his thoughtful and pragmatic approach to doing business.
“If somebody came into the store with something worth $2,000 – $3,000, I would bring that to their attention. Something [of that value] isn’t even in my market. There’s people in Toronto I could direct them to, failing that I could try to put it up for sale and split [the profits]. I’m not gonna rip somebody off.”
Of course, Old Goat Books is not an island unto itself. Loubert was quick to speak positively of other booksellers in the region, emphasizing how they support one another and contribute to a wider community of literacy.
“Wordsworth Books … Dave and Mandy run a really good shop. They’re a supplier! When people ask if I’m worried about competition, goodness, no. A lot of my books actually come from [other shops]. It’s good stuff, and they work very hard. There’s Scott Hunter at KW Bookstore, he’s a veteran book … guy. He runs a really great shop.”
Still sitting comfortably, even unassumingly, at the corner of King St. N and Young St. E, Old Goat Books is within walking distance of Waterloo’s University district, allowing Loubert to keep an eye on what young people are reading and how their attitude toward buying books is particularly unique.
Loubert says that there’s been a surge of interest among younger people in older books, especially older fiction and poetry.
“Enough time has passed that volumes from the 1920s – 30s … people are developing an interest in them. I have a section at the front of the store featuring that stuff. I’m getting a pretty healthy number of younger people, in their 20s, buying those books. They like the material, they like the look [of the books].”
Having weathered the 2008 economic recession and now a pandemic, Old Goat Books and the larger community of booksellers in the region may very well continue to encourage readers young and old for another 20 years
Jessie is an old hat at covering talent as a well-published entertainment media journalist for TORO, MONDO, and other magazines that use capital letters excessively. Catch this huge cinephile (he has a film degree of course) constantly hanging out at Princess or Apollo consuming every movie release. You'll find him pondering life over a beer at his local, Arabella Park, or working on a screenplay while his cat Joni meows at him for attention.