Gnosi Bookstore, Athens – Spot Check
We stumbled upon Gnosi Bookstore because Google failed us. Big time. After an hour of walking and the realization that we had no clue where we were, we stopped in a Kinko-like store. We told the man at the counter we thought we might be lost.
“Yes, you are,” he said. No question about it – two tourists in this neighborhood were lost.
After figuring out where we were (off the map) and getting directions to the nearest metro station (just a few blocks away), we asked if there were any office-supply stores nearby. Yes, there was one – right around the corner.
Yanis runs Gnosi Bookstore along with his twin daughters, Alex and Efi, with help from their brother Kostas. (“Kostas the great,” as Yanis calls him, is a doctor currently studying public health in Holland.) Alex studied interior design at university – Efi studied literature. It’s obvious that, like their father, they love this bookshop.
From the office supplies (where we found the notebooks for STMT X Greece), to the shelves of books (“They don’t bring in much money, but we love them”), to the wonderfully curated selection of children’s books and toys upstairs – everything is thought out, in its place. When asked about inventory, Alex is quick to answer – she and her sister know this shop, grew up with it.
Yanis is from a small mountain village in Crete – 80 people. Total. No electricity, no cars. “The cave life,” Yanis jokes. He walked 3 kilometers to go to school. We asked him what type of notebook he used for class. “A small slate blackboard.”
After school, Yanis became a sea captain on a ship called Captain John. Yanis is the Greek form of “John”, so “I was Captain John on the Captain John.” Yanis’s wife was also from Crete – they met through mutual friends – and after they were married, she didn’t want her husband off at sea. So in 1978, they opened a bookstore in Athens. Why? “My wife loved books.”
Yanis seems a quiet man, but he lights up when he asks if we’ve seen the garden. He ushers us out back – a courtyard surrounded by shops and apartment buildings, laundry and Greek flags hanging from balconies. Potted plants edge the walls – in the center are two tables. One for adults, one for kids. The mothers can come here, Yanis explains, and enjoy a cup of tea while their kids play at the smaller table.
Like that garden shows, this is a place about community. Events for children. Workshops with painters who come and teach classes. Holiday events, celebrations for the International Day for Children’s Books (April 2, in case you’re curious). Yanis even cooks for the workshops – small Cretan pies. He is obviously pleased when we tell him our favorite spot in Greece was Crete. Next time we come, he says, we’ll have to come over for a home-cooked meal and Cretan wine. Sign us up.
We ask Yanis, Alex and Elfi what they think the future has in store for Gnosi. They say it’ll be ok – the store will survive. People are going back to small shops, they crave that human connection. Yes, we nod. We totally understand.
Gnosi Bookstore // Grigoriou Afxentiou 26-28, Ilisia Athens, post code 15771