Atlantis Books is perched high on a clifftop in Oia, a village on the north-western tip of Santorini. Two American students, Craig Walzer and Oliver Wise, came up with the idea for the shop while visiting the island in 2002. ‘We read all of our books and couldn't find anywhere else to buy some,’ Walzer told me. They returned with friends in 2004 and built Atlantis out of found objects from beaches, junkyards, and donations from the neighbours. ‘We took our time actually building the shower, because books were more important that hygiene.'
The names of the hundreds of people who have slept at the shop are written in a spiral on the ceiling: siblings, old friends, strangers, artists. Handwritten messages and bright murals leave no space untouched. Multistorey stacks include both Panos Karnezis and The Misunderstood Monsters of Greek Mythology; Coralie Bickford-Smith’s clothbound Penguin Classics are next to valuable first editions, including the Olympia Press's Lolita (‘you could buy a small car with it’). They also publish books under the imprint Paravion Press.
Last May, their landlord announced that he had permission to build another floor on their upstairs terrace (Atlantis is below street level). He also said he'd been offered €1 million by someone who wants to turn the building into a jewellery shop. The booksellers were told they had two weeks to leave. But they're still there, for now, and a campaign to crowdfund a counteroffer is ready if needed. ‘We’re not packing up,’ Walzer says.
The 2015 Caldera Arts and Literature Festival begins at the bookshop tomorrow, with David Sedaris and Billy Collins among the line-up.