Iconic bookstore of Santorini faces fight for survival

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Atlantis Books – described in the Guardian as “a dream of a bookstore” – has been run by an international collective of artists, writers and activists since 2002, when it was first founded on the Greek island of Santorini.

As well as organising theatre and open-air cinema, and running the successful annual Caldera Festival since 2011, the bookstore has also set up programs such as the ‘book donkey’, which brings books to the local schools.

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However, the bookstore is now facing the threat of extinction, and the collective or artists who support Atlantis Books is now seeking help to secure its existence.

The owner of the picturesque cave house that has accommodated the Atlantis Bookstore since 2005 has announced plans to sell the property and, although no legal documents have yet gone around regarding the sale, the owner has claimed to have secured a 1 million euro deal for the building.

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One of the original founders of Atlantis Books, Craig Walzer, has since struck a deal with the owner, which would see the building sold to the company, if they are able to come up with the same amount of money.

The race is now on to raise the funding for the purchase. Walzer has already said he is willing to invest his own personal savings to secure the store buyout and set up a writer’s and artist’s residence on Santorini, and the bookstore also has a first edition copy of The Great Gatsby which is expected to sell for around 10,000 euros.

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However, Walzer has also estimated that the total funds needed to buy the building and keep the business sustainable will be around US$1.5 million – which will go toward the cost of buying out the bookstore building and paying off the IRS tax that will be imposed on the campaign revenue.

The importance of securing the funding for the building cannot be overstated.

Not only has the building become a landmark for the area, it has also become an international symbol of creativity, art, and writing. It stands for both the local people and the world at large, and the story of the bookstore stands out as being one of ethical business, creativity, and entrepreneurial spirit. One of the store’s interns once put it this way:

“I had always held the assumption that business was essentially a Darwinian struggle to best competition, while fending off would be predators, in order to vie for the business of customers. The bookshop however operates on an entirely different paradigm. Most notably for me is the complete lack of adversaries it inspires. The island locals are proud and grateful for the store, especially since they can find books in Greek. The tourists are delighted at the unexpected opportunity to refresh their travel reading, or take home a colorful coffee table book. The surrounding business are happy the bookshop does its part to attract people to the area, while not directly competing with them. The people working the store like myself are grateful for the opportunity to stay in such a beautiful location with inspiring company. And of course the owners are happy the store is performing all the above functions, as well as being profitable for them. In short the bookstore improves the lives of everyone it touches.”

Of course, it’s important to remember that this isn’t the first time that the Atlantis team has turned to crowdfunding. In 2011, the bookstore raised US$40,000 through a two-month Indiegogo campaign, which was organised in order for the owners to perform “overdue renovations to the shop interior, the transformation of our terrace into a flexible retain and performance space and the buying of fresh stock of unique books”.

That money has kept the doors open for the past four seasons. The new campaign of course seeks substantially more, but in the views of those who have been inspired by Atlantis Books; it is certainly a price worth paying.

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