Oktana, a small bookshop in Thessaloniki
Located on a street adjacent to Camara, a modest bookshop and its owner await your visit.
Hello, can you present yourself?
My name is Dimitra, I’m almost 37 years old, I studied film studies at the university. I was a flight attendant for a little bit. Now I do this. I’m a bookshop owner, seller more accurately.
You almost reply to the second question. I was about to ask you your background, but how did you become to be a bookseller?
Once upon a time, I used to live in England. And there’s like buying second hand things. It’s like super interwoven into everyday life. So that was very exciting to me because I’ve only had been like to second hand bookshops before and my left one was Berlin and the other one was in “Adipa” which is a tiny island here.
It doesn’t matter. So, it was both times on holiday. It didn’t have a lot of time to like actually like see what this is above. It was like out of canon. In Athens, I knew there were a lot of them, but it I never really lived in Athens for that long to experience it. In England, even in my tiny village, there were like a few and I used to use these for clothes as well and stuff like that because I was working in a very formal, you know, attire.
I kind of became this distant with things and stuff that didn’t make me feel nice. I don’t know. It’s very into the culture. So, I was very excited about that. Like I would have a fever and could buy like three books from the time, so it was amazing. I had it in my mind and then because I was already studying, meeting a lot of writers through creative writing and my friends were writers and bookshop owners and writing teachers and blah blah blah.
I knew people and that’s how the idea came. The idea came specifically as a business idea, not so much like a bigger thing because in Thessaloniki they weren’t shops that were second-hand bookshops that were “nice”. Like they have sort of the mentality of like an old building and piles and stacks of books and you get lost but I wanted to be clean there, if that makes sense. And I knew that there was a market for it, like I wanted to target the twenty years old not the fifty years old. Which is a bit agist.
Maybe you hack my computer before. I was ready to say your library is a little bit special you are specialized in seconds hand books. What motivated you to make this choice? You talk about a business plan can you tell more?
It was actually business choice. I mean, people don’t want to talk about it because it’s not romantic. But it’s dumb not to think about these things because I was telling to my friends, even though that’s not exactly true, that I couldn’t do that in Athens. But when I think Athens, I think like downtown Athens, which is not a thing, because Athens is a lot of like neighbourhoods.
So technically I could have done, but not like in very central location probably. But I knew that they were and the ones that I used to go to has customer had a lot of books. But I didn’t feel comfortable in them, you know, I had to, they don’t clean the books in a very hypochondriac way. I clean everything.
So again, I wanted people to have a nice experience, but if they are on a budget they are on a budget and if you want to spend 50€ for a first edition, that’s fine too, you know, whatever it is. That was the idea. I didn’t specialize in something else though because that was for me. I started bringing the books I wanted to read or my friends were printing and I only bring like very, very small, independent or libertarian publishers because I want to cut the middleman and all the bullshit jobs between them. So gets a book bring it here and that’s it.
As an actor of small library, the question is quite obvious why is it important to defend the little libraries?
The small and the big are relative terms. It also has to do with what I can handle. And obviously if the shop gets bigger but still a small shop, I wouldn’t mind. I’m not very comfortable in the idea of changing location because I think people are used to this. But you know, people do this all the time, so that’s fine.
But I’m not really interested in a very big thing unless it’s like coop thing, like with friends and stuff, because it’s counter to what I’m trying to do with my life. I don’t really believe in the accumulation of things. I don’t really care about having something big just to have it. Like keep being or always being because it has ups and downs obviously as a business in Greece at the moment profitable. But I have a very complicated relationship with capitalism.
You talk about ups and downs. Let’s talk about the COVID crisis. Have you noticed a change in the buying and the reading practice of your customers?
Not really. I mean, the sad fact is that the book industry that such an obscure thing. People really read like streaming and reading were the things that you did during COVID. So that really didn’t really bother me. I don’t know about small businesses because obviously everybody was buying everything online and I had to like do some side hustling and make it fun for people. I started sending them things that was borderline okay, legal wise because we’re not supposed to go out and I didn’t have any shop yet, so I had to like get emails and send them things and stuff like that.
That was bizarre. We did that as a side project because we were bored. But I think people from wherever they could, they were reading because there wasn’t much to do, like especially all these kinds of people that say they don’t have time to read. They had the time. And it was also nice because you were immerged in things, you weren’t thinking about the horrible thing that was happening outside. I think actually again, many quotes “helped a bit”. People were reading.
SMALL BOOKSTORES WEEK 22-27 MAY
From May 22 to 27 all over Greece the Small Bookstores Week takes place. For the people who don’t know, it’s a week of events taking place in small bookstores such as signing sessions, book recommendations but also workshops around social and cultural themes. You will organize 2 events: Books that made us and Drinks and Books and Stories. Can you tell us more about it?
Booze and books is better. I regret that I thought it afterwards. Last year it was very bizarre because I had a lot of events back to back with friends of mine that didn’t attracts a lot of people because we were post-COVID and there were so many. This year they had different kinds of themes that you can like play into, like new voices, queer voices and be a bookshop keeper for a day.
I was like I can’t. I decided to do like do it like a super FUBU, for us by us. So all the week I’m giving back to the people that support me by taking some of the stories. They write a story, they get a book, it’s a mystery book tough because otherwise it will be too complicated for them to start deciding. And we’re just going have a party I mean, party I think it’s going to be like a soirée.
It’s very self-reflective this year. The good and the beautiful thing about it is that it can also be pretentious because it’s up to the person that does the thing. It’s like an umbrella event. Well because it’s the thing that I’m doing now and asking people for the books that really made them. That were really pivotal in their life.I don’t really believe in like this book you must read like because I liked it doesn’t mean that you do. And that’s my whole thing. I think that’s why I still have customers because I really I think my superpowers are that I can really understand how you’re vibing and give you the book that you need at the time.
What about a book that didn’t made you but was like stone in your life?
we don’t have this book right now here. We never had the books in the way that I’m reading it now. . I don’t know if that’s the title in English, in Greek it’s “The Book of Disquiet” by Fernando Pesoa.
He is a character you meet and I really like this book a lot it’s not my favourite because I really relate with the character but he’s a version of myself. If I wasn’t like handling my things or my shit, like if I was like going through the anxiety and just diving it, I think that I would become something like that. And it’s a reminder that “Hey old friend, things are not always as bad as you think it’s gonna be fine.”
To help people come and give the stories because I want it to be like equal. I’m writing my books as well. One of them is a book that I read when I was very little called “The Story Without Name” by Penelope Delta, which I really loved when I was like 10.
When I read it older I realized that it’s a horrible book that basically normalizes having a king. The arrow for what like being a citizen means is very nation center. So I was like “oh no” but in my ten year old brain that had only seen Disney movies that avoid the fact that he was a king, but a good one, somehow made it like radical.
You yeah but from here I think most likely I would like recommend you books from my friends that are like new and they’re sort of like new voices and very I like this very much also because I’m a secondhand bookseller and I never know what’s happening. I have to literally find the people that write the books to tell me what’s going on.
I live in my own time.Read more: Second-hand Books, First-hand Experience Dimitra, Bookshop Owner In Thessaloniki