Jon Benjamin never intended to open a bookstore. When the professional graphic designer relocated from the D.C. Metro area to his wife’s hometown of Buckhannon, West Virginia, he began teaching graphic design at the local college. Now, four years later, he’s operating one of the state’s newest book destinations: Argo Books.
“When we moved here, I thought I’d try teaching – it’ll be fun,” he says. “But I was overwhelmed teaching fulltime.”
It took a while, but once Jon found his groove with his course load, he found he had more time for other interests, and so began the idea for a brick-and-mortar creative space in Buckhannon’s downtown district.
“I run clubs, like a photography club and other things, so I thought about a space for those clubs to meet, and maybe in the front I’d sell art supplies, art magazines and books, things like that, and maybe I’d get some design clients off the street.”
When he and his wife began brainstorming what to name the place, a space devoted to design, media and art supplies proved tough to describe.
“My wife said, ‘Well, you’re going to sell books, right? Why don’t we call it a bookstore? People understand that.’ Her MFA is in literature and writing, so she ordered all these books, and it just became a bookstore.”
And the name Argo Books? It’s from Greek mythology. It refers to the ship on which Jason sailed with the Argonauts on his quest for the Golden Fleece.
“I love the Greeks and Greek myths,” Jon says. “When I start my class, I tell my students we’re like Jason and the Argonauts. I tell them they’re the Argonauts, I’m Jason. If you know, Jason didn’t do anything. The Argonauts had all the super powers. Jason just got them together in his quest to get to the Golden Fleece. So the students drive the ship. I’m just leading them to the Golden Fleece.”
The name fit Jon’s vision for the store – a third space devoted to creativity, be it literature, art, photography or video production.
“I want this place to be a sort of conduit – our community hub, our Argo.”
In addition to his book and art supply inventory, visitors can rent a digital camera or use one of several computers equipped with Adobe software. There’s also board games, free coffee and hot chocolate, and other drinks and gift items available for purchase.
As for the books, while the selection is relatively small, it’s carefully curated with new books, ranging in genres from contemporary fiction to sci-fi, young adult, children’s books and more. There’s a growing selection of West Virginia authors and a small collection of used books as well. The club offerings continue to grow, and Jon is scheduling more author events heading into spring and summer.
“We don’t really know what we’re doing,” he says with a laugh, “but it’s been a blast!”
While he may be learning to steer his bookstore ship as he sails it, Jon’s vision for a creative community hub and bookshop is a welcome addition to Buckhannon.
Argo Books is located at 6 North Spring Street, Buckhannon, West Virginia. Open Tuesday through Saturday.