Finding Atlantis... among bookshelves

• Category: Interviews

In a time when independent bookshops are being replaced by chains and websites, when the real book actually suffers the invasion of e-readers, a team of American and European university graduates have opened Atlantis, this lovely bookshop at the ground floor of a cliff-top villa in Oia. A step inside and you get charmed by the artistic atmosphere. On the shelves, you can find all kind of books in several languages. In fact, this effort was appreciated by Lonely Planet which included it in the top 10 list of the World's Greatest Bookshops for 2011!

Chris Bloomfield, a member of Atlantis, recalls the creation of this bookshop. "In the spring of 2002, Oliver and Craig spent a week on the island of Santorini. The land inspired them and there was no bookshop, so they drank some wine and decided to open one. Craig and Chris had spent some time with people who hung around Shakespeare and Company in Paris and together we knew we wanted to make a place where people could sit and read quietly in the middle of their travels. We gathered a group of friends from America and Europe and landed on the island January 4th, 2004 and we opened that spring."

The difficulties they faced at the beginning were many. Having Maria from Cyprus as their only Greek speaker was a challenge for everyone and the long process of starting a business in Greece coupled with the slowness of island life made the first few months difficult. However, this small business gradually became a centre of culture for the small community of Santorini. "We stock books in Spanish, English, Greek, Italian, German, French, and there are a few shelves of Dutch books. For the Continental European languages, we try to stock Greek authors in those languages and other titles we like. In English and Greek, we stock classics and modern classics as well as the occasional beach read", says Chris. Not only that, but they organize various interesting festivals in summer. "It's difficult in the summer to have events because all of our friends around the village are working all the time and can't join us, but we've had live music, poetry and fiction readings, and this past August we held our 3rd Super 8 Film Festival. Plans for the future include writer's conferences and there has been talk of a photography conference."

Apart from the bookshop, you also publish stories, right?

We've been talking about making our own books for some time and it finally got around to doing it out of necessity. With e-readers and books on the decline, we knew we would have to make these books very nice, high quality objects made of fine paper and hand stitched. Since books are a luxury item, we wanted people to have something they could send as a gift that was small, classic, and affordable. Will and Craig came up with the idea for stories that were meant to be shared by mail and we began designing and printing them in the shop in the spring of 2010. We've chosen stories we like that we've shared amongst ourselves, essays by Mark Twain or short stories by great writers, like Katherine Mansfield and Anton Chekhov.

Do you live in Santorini all year round or only in summer?

The owners of the shop take turns rotating throughout the year, and since 2006 there has been a steady turnover. Out of high season, Santorini is fantastic. Quiet, cold and rainy. To see the rain storms come in over the sea is something summer travelers never get to see but should. There is lots of space to do individual projects or read or learn to play an instrument.

Why did you choose especially Santorini to open a business?

Out of luck. Santorini just happened to be the place where Oliver and Craig came at the same time they finished the books they brought traveling. There was no proper bookshop and it seemed there was enough traffic during the summer months to sustain a project like this. We just lucked into one of the most beautiful islands in Greece.

More info at: Atlantis bookstore