In the enchanting Oia of Santorini, “Atlantis Books” may have begun as a youthful dream, but it has evolved into one of the world's top bookshops. Talking to Craig Walzer, one of its six founders, we learn what makes Atlantis so special.
Spring, 2002. Two friends, Craig and Oliver, having spent a few days in Santorini, “ran out” of (foreign) reads and, to their surprise, founding out that there is no place where they can purchase new books for their holidays. Later, they went out for a drink, and a great business idea was born: to open an independent bookshop in Oia, which would be called “Atlantis Books.” The idea could have been forgotten the following morning, yet their passion and youthful stubbornness kept it alive.
The two friends returned to England to complete their studies and in the meantime organized their business plan, looking, among other things, for the best companions. A year later, a group of people with a common dream and the same “craze” was formed. So, on a New Year's morning, they began their travel through Europe with a rented van called “Danny”, which became the vehicle of their success. “We found an empty building overlooking the sunset and signed the lease contract. We opened a bank account, applied for a business license, made some friends, found a dog and a cat, made shelves, “landed” a fishing boat on the roof and filled the place with books.” In the spring of 2004, Atlantis Books opened its doors under Kastro and the following year moved to the site where it is still located, in the center of Oia. With a magnificent terrace overlooking the Aegean Sea, Atlantis Books founders still narrate the story of the bookshop as a fairy tale (atlantisbooks.org).
Very early on, the International Press had given credit to Atlantis Books. The publications came one after the other, starting with an article by Jeremy Mercer at the British Guardian in 2005. Since then, the bookshop of Oia has been included – usually leading – in all the lists of “world's top bookshops.” “In a way, we had become famous before we deserved it because some friends wrote a piece and then followed other journalists. At present, it is the first time I think maybe we are indeed one of the best bookshops in the world because we worked really hard in previous years and that is what pleases me,” says Craig for the historic bookshop, which has currently grown to a landmark.
The reputation it has acquired has led the Atlantis Books team, in addition to selling books (classical works, books on diverse cultures in various languages, Greek mythology, illustrated publications, poetry), also to respond to visitors’ questions while telling beautiful stories about the bookshop. “I resolved this by starting in 2013 to record the history of the bookshop on the wall and every time I add a little more. And that is nice because people now ask us different questions. In the past, they asked basic questions, which can be tedious after a while. Now, I get new questions. Now, they ask things like “you had a flood in 2010, tell me about the flood,” “who is the new guy working here?”, “Two of the founders of the bookshop married to each other, can you tell me more about this?”. So, our conversations with people are like going straight to the “second date.” Today, it was the first time someone asked me, “when did you write your timeline on the wall?”. So, now we are talking about the timeline of the timeline.
In its 14-year history, Atlantis Books has undertaken several memorable initiatives, such as cultural activities and events, as well as the printing of old publications. However, searching for his favorite memory, Craig says: “The wedding on the terrace at our tenth anniversary. Two of the people who helped make the shop, Chris and Maria, married on the terrace. Old friends, whom we had not seen for years, came and we were all together; all the people who might have been in the bookshop at different times finally met up close. It was very nice.”
Finally, Craig talks about Santorini. “It is one of the most impressive – geologically and geographically – locations on Earth. Sociologically, it is equally a fascinating place because you observe how people interact with such a generous environment – you know, we are very small before the volcano and the sea.” “For anyone reading this article, every visitor to the island who has somehow been a victim of its success,” Craig urges him to break the mold, not to fidget between the cameras and selfie sticks, and find his way five meters further or 30km farther, at the south of the island or some northern beach, wineries and small villages, because “the sunset will happen wherever you are.”