Landmark bookstores a family affair

In a time of mergers and realignments in the book trade, the Eleftheroudakis bookstore – itself a part of Athenian history – is playing its strongest cards: tradition, family character, and a cosmopolitanism that sets it apart from the homogenized global market. «Eleftheroudakis Bookstore: People, Books, A Story,» just out (in Greek), tells a tale of entrepreneurial ingenuity and love of knowledge. Full of nostalgia-inducing photos and archival material, the book strikes a balance between the past and the present. Written by Emmanuela Nikolaidou, at the request of the Eleftheroudakis family, the book relates the foundation and development of the bookshop, from 1898 (when Costas Eleftheroudakis went into partnership with the Bavarians Beck and Barth) to the present day, the growth of the chain and its activities. Innovation «We have been a Greek family business for more than 100 years and we want to stay that way,» Sofika Eleftheroudaki said on March 9 at the book launch, which attracted numerous publishers and other book professionals. Eleftheroudaki made a public plea to publishers for closer cooperation to «build up their share of the pie together» through what «united» them. Optimistic on principle, with confidence in the future, Eleftheroudaki was speaking also on behalf of her sister Marina and her mother Virginia (who was at the helm of the business from 1968, after the death of Giorgos Eleftheroudakis, until 1989). She talked about the company’s plans and prospects: More branches are in the pipeline (opening shortly in Piraeus, Thessaloniki, Patras and Volos); the Newsstand-Eleftheroudakis network is expanding (soon available at the ISAP electric railway station in Piraeus); cooperation with Koenemann publishers continues with 11 new titles coming out; and there will be more joint ventures with cafe chains, hospitals and museums so that books appear in «non-traditional spaces.» With an annual turnover of 18 million euros, against 300,000 euros just 20 years ago, Eleftheroudakis reflects the great changes that are taking place, not only in the retail trade but also on the publishing map. It is the Greek version of the Waterstone’s chain in Great Britain, which Eleftheroudaki referenced. «Tim Waterstone predicted the revolutionary developments in the book market and in culture in general, despite the contrary, pessimistic views of many analysts,» she said. Now that the history of Eleftheroudakis – «the most recognizable name in the field of books» – has been published, the company still wants to be known as an innovator. In fact, the Greek market has been shaped to a large extent by the innovations of the Eleftheroudakis family. Athenian institution Starting up an international bookstore in Athens in 1898 was one of them. Eleftheroudakis was housed in a neoclassical mansion that stood on the corner of Stadiou and Karageorgi streets. In 1962, a large bookshop, ultramodern for its time, opened at 4 Nikis St, the creation of Giorgos Eleftheroudakis, who established it to sell scientific books. In 1995, the multistory branch at 17 Panepistimiou opened. The first really big bookstore in Greece, it incorporated a friendly cafe along American lines with comfortable seating and bright colors. In the past. Eleftheroudakis was involved in bringing out publications of high intellectual standing. In 1910, it founded a publishing company of the same name, which offered many beautifully produced and prestigious publications during the interwar period. One of the best known was the Eleftheroudakis Encyclopedia, published in 1927.