Santorini's boho bookshop

Greek islands: Atlantis Books is an anti-corporate, highly literate haven in the middle of the Med, one former resident (and worker) writes

The interior of Atlantis Books. Image courtesy of
The interior of Atlantis Books. Image courtesy of Ioanna Mavrou and Thodoris Tzalavras

Santorini, a Greek volcanic island in the Mediterranean, is better known for its hot springs, honeymooning couples and romanticized sunsets than for its bohemian ethos. However, there's a little place in Oia, the whitewashed clifftop town at the island's northernmost peak, that's trying to keep some ideas of sharing, cultivation and unconventionality alive in an increasingly cold, corporate-riddled world. 

Although it is a book-selling business and needs to generate revenue, Atlantis Books's very raison d'etre is dedicated to the spreading of thought and ideas from the start. Legend has it that American writer Craig Walzer, one of the five co-owners, had the idea for the place when he was holidaying on the island, finished the book he was reading and found nowhere else to purchase another one. Atlantis Books now hosts an eclectic range of not only English literature, but also German, French, Spanish, Italian and, of course, Greek books to cater for the many differing nationalities visiting Santorini.

However, with the five owners all having regular day jobs that require them elsewhere for most of the year, from New York to Paris, this is where the shop's bohemian aspect to its business model entwines. For the entirety of its elongated summer season, lasting from late March to mid-November, the store is run by volunteers who can live in the shop, amongst the books, in exchange for a quantity of their working hours. And they have complete communal autonomy. There is no small-minded, power-hungry supervisor to answer to, no chain store lists of 'dos' and 'don'ts' to expunge once a customer sets foot across the threshold.

Of course it helps if you have a bit of natural charm and an innate passion for literature already; you will be vetted by Craig through a short Skype interview beforehand, don't just book your Easyjet ticket and turn up. And, while you don't have to be young to live to engage in bookshop living, its advisable to retain an open mindset and flexibility. You may keep the bookshop's face presentable on the outside, but the tiny galley-like kitchen behind the scenes is gonna get filthy pretty quick; it's great to squeeze your own orange juice in the morning, but the Bezeelzebub style conglomerate of flies that has amassed to the rotting pulp by mid-afternoon isn't so fresh. Going to the toilet between a mass of damp washing on one side and a furious antique washing machine vibrating its way towards you on the other can be awkward. And you don't know who you're gonna be staying with until you get there; you might end up sharing with someone who's chronically insecure, which manifests itself in a fanatical obsession with proving his self-worth through constant games of chess.

Perhaps most crucially complete autonomy also involves a sense of complete responsibility; you are the one who's going to have to watch Craig's face fall via Skype if you have a low sales figure at the end of the working day. But there are enough high days and enough footfall down the winding stone steps of people who marvel and wonder at a bookshop not only dedicated to the sale of books but also to the kernel of what books contain and the ethos of sharing, to prove that there is still scope for keeping these stores alive in an otherwise occupied Kindle world.

Patrick Cash is a London-based writer. He worked at Atlantis Books over the summer. 

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