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Photo by Norbert Nagel
Atlantis Books, a small independent bookstore located in the village of Oia on the island of Santorini in Greece, has become a venerable landmark in one of the most popular tourist destinations on earth. According to a story by Thodoris Georgakopoulos published on Medium, that quaint "cave of books," most of them in English may soon be lost due to the landlord selling the spot for over a million U.S. dollars. Founded 12 years ago by Americans Craig Walzer and Oliver Wise, Atlantis Books is run as a creative collective and is beloved by many. As the writer explains:
"Like most old dwellings on Santorini, this building was essentially built by digging a hole into the soft volcanic rock. It was meant to look like a cave, because that was the only stable structure people could afford to build on the island at the time. Today these structures seem quaint and delightful, like hobbit-holes for the very rich. But they are not, one could argue, the most appropriate design for a bookstore."
This past September, the bookstore hosted the Fourth Caldera Arts Festival, which included a reading by David Sedaris.
Despite its popularity, the bookstore is in financial trouble. According to Georgakopoulos, in 2011 Atlantis turned to Kickstarter to raise funds for renovations and other expenses. Since then, it has launched a small publishing house to add revenue streams. "They are also expanding their rare book offerings," he writes, "selling first editions that cost thousands of euros to very fortunate collectors on holiday. The model has worked so far, and the bookstore gets by." (You can see the latest offers on its Facebook page).
Now the bookstore faces a new threat: "The owner of the building they rent has announced that a buyer had appeared, and he is willing to sell," writes Georgakopoulos. "The lease, that expires in a few months, will not be renewed, and the only way for Walzer and his cohorts to keep the bookstore would be to match the buyer’s offer, and buy the building outright... The price is one-million euros." The price is so steep because this building has the potential to add a second floor—something that is rare in Oia, since it is protected from many physical changes to the buildings.
Walzer, one of the co-founders, says that relocating or building a new bookstore is next-to-impossible, so they are hoping to raise the funds to buy the spot and may resort to crowdfunding to do so.
Georgakopoulos ponders why a bookstore such as Atlantis should be saved and what it provides for culture —and the tourists who are visiting—by answering:
"These aren’t places, they are moments, little pockets of joy that can’t be purchased or scheduled. Bookstores like these, it doesn’t even matter if they sell books. We need them just to sit there, waiting for us, among the souvenir shops and the expensive boutiques, right where we least expect it, at the edge of an island, in a hole in the ground."