The small town of Oia on Santorini, a Greek island in the South Aegean Sea, is home to what some call the best bookshop in the world. This unique shop, Atlantis Books, recently won first place on The Guardian magazine’s list of the best bookshops in the world.
Craig Walzer, originally from the United States, owns and runs this special store that sells new, used, and collectable books. Walzer came up with the idea for the shop with his friends, they had all been looking for a place to hang out and talk literature.
In a recent interview with The Daily Secret in Greece Walzer talked about the shop and his business philosophy. “One secret of success is to pick a place that’s so beautiful that anything you do with it, you will be able to do it well,” he said. The store caters mostly to tourists as do most businesses in Santorini. The locals amount to about 10% of his customers and are supportive of the enterprise.
“We are guests here, foreigners. Some think we are crazy, some think we are funny, but we couldn’t have done it without their support.” Walzer said. “In the beginning people donated old pieces of furniture, or told us which beaches to go to for driftwood, which junkyards for old doors and things to sand up and fix. Everything in the shop is recycled material, cleaned up from old used stuff. It’s easy here because the tourist industry has to have a new thing every year and just chucks out the old things. It’s like a big Hollywood set.”
He has also earned a reputation for acquiring rare books. “Just last night I got a first edition of Steinbeck’s ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ from New York.” He said, “I have had other copies of it and of ‘Of Mice and Men,’ but this is really special: Its jacket is intact and it’s my winner for today. I don’t think I’ll have it for too long though, it being so beautiful.”
Walzer is also the organizer behind the Caldera Arts and Literature Festival, which is in its fourth year. Among his guests were Billy Collins, Ross Daly, Julian Gargiulo and many other Greek writers. “I believe Billy Collins is the best poet in the world right now (a fact that can be supported by all his awards). He is huge in the United States and I hope people will get starstruck,” said Walzer.
Walzer has lived, worked, and studied in France, England, and Africa. While in Africa he worked with refugees in a Cairo law clinic. It was that experience that opened the door to McSweenys Publishing, through which he published a book titled “Out of Exile.”