In light of our Independent Bookstores Across America map, I've recently been inspired by the unique story of Atlantis Books, which is across the big pond in Santorini, Greece. The original idea for Atlantis came in 2002 after a handful of Americans traveled the Greek isles, finished their books and went in search of a decent bookstore. The beauty of the landscape inspired them, but there was no bookshop, so they drank some wine and decided to open one. The unique live/work space has become a cultural center for the community with poetry readings on the roof, a Tzatziki festival and book binding classes.
I sat down with Chris Bloomfield, one of the co-founders, to get the scoop.
Can you tell me about the history of the original idea behind Atlantis? Who was initially involved and how did the community receive you guys in the beginning?
In the Spring of 2002, Oliver and Craig spent a week on Santorini. They finished their books and went searching for more but didn't find proper bookshop on the island. So they got drunk and decided to open one, gathering a crew of people from home and others knew through Shakespeare and Company in Paris. The first group of folks were Craig, Oliver, Maria, Tim, Will, and Chris. From the start the community embraced us. We were looked at as a sort of curiosity. We were known as "the kids," and people wanted to mother/father us with dinners and gifts and advice. We loved it, and we're still very close with the villagers who have been with us since we began.
The architecture is breathtaking. How did you find the space? And how have you made the bookstore a live/work operation? What are some of the quirky, unique details of the building, the hidden gems?
The current location, our home for 6 years now, is right in the middle of town. The second floor was destroyed in the 1956 earthquake, and there are laws in place that prevent people from rebuilding if they don't have the original plans or photographs of what the place looked like before the quake. So it had just been sitting there, collecting trash bags from the neighborhood. Once we moved in and started building, we continued the idea that we should live and work in the same space, that our beds should be incorporated into the architecture of the bookshelves. Within those bed spaces are some secret little nooks for people to store their things out of the way, the books used as a wall. Because we've made the space our home, there's more of a sense of ownership that any resident feels. The protectiveness one feels for a home space is translated to the business. People love to give recommendations to customers while cooking in the kitchen.
What are some examples of community events hosted by Atlantis? How does the bookstore utilize the performance space?
To open our new shop in 2005 we put on a Tzatziki Festival. We've hosted a couple of book making events where Maria and Myrto brought in kids from the local primary school for day long activities. Sunset readings on the terrace, movies in the back room. There was a summer where Luke bought a bunch of radios and a transmitter and we had a silent cinema on the terrace. And of course, the last three years we've put on the Detours Super 8 Film Festival. Besides the terrace, we screen shorts around town against the whitewashed buildings. During last summer's final night there were more than 70 people on the terrace watching.
Would you explain the recent fundraising campaign for Atlantis?
We want to invest in our space—opening and remodeling the terrace for showcasing book art and hosting literary events and seminars; investing in stock orders from fine boutique and art presses from around the world so that customers will find a reason to not just admire and spend time with our books but continue to purchase them. We need to mold our model to cope with higher prices and an evolving marketplace because the model that got us through the mid-2000s just won't sustain us in the decade to come. Hence the growing pains. We've decided to use IndieGoGo for our fundraising campaign because of the unique community of people from all over the world that Atlantis Books has become. We've gotten some great response and we're adding new perks to keep up the momentum. People can check the status on our website and contribute here.