Remembering Estia bookstore

Much has been written with regard to the Vivliopoleion tis Estias in the last few days. After 128 years in business the landmark bookshop closed its doors for good on Monday.

Since then, friends have been getting together and, as is so often the case in such situations, exchanging memories and experiences they shared together at their beloved central Athens hangout.

So many of us spent countless hours at 60 Solonos Street, at times browsing through the books upstairs for yet another edition on the Cyprus issue, at times chatting beside the bookshelves.

Those were days of intense conversation and unbelievable romance.

We were youngsters then and in absolute awe of the writers, intellectuals and politicians who were also there, looking through the same book titles. We considered Maria and Kyr-Yiannis – if I remember correctly – to be “our” people.

As the years went by, Estia – as the bookstore eventually came to be known – became more of a home to me than I could ever imagine.

Kyria Mania Karaitidi, always hospitable but at the same time firm, Eva, the dog lying comfortably on the carpet in front of the main office, and the visitors who passed through the store all displayed a particular kind of charm as they brought an Athenian tradition together with the city’s extremely lively present.

And of course, how could I ever forget the afternoon attack orchestrated by a gang of hooligans whose members were set on completely destroying the establishment?

Kyria Mania stood in front of them and started yelling at “those kids” without a shred of fear.

It saddens me tremendously that we are living in a city which is unable to safeguard the points of reference and traditional hangouts of its various generations.

The Greek capital’s invasion by the nouveau riche and the glamorous lifestyle attached to that class ended up obliterating the vast majority of those old places in the name of prime real estate.

It is extremely difficult these days to come up with the names of even one or two familiar places that represent middle-class Athens during that era. That is sadly how things go, of course.

As a highly practical friend of mine always says, “When was the last time you went by the store in the last two years?” Possibly not even once, I must admit.

But, at the end of the day, you don’t appreciate what you have until it’s gone.

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