The famed Greek Bilingual Bookshop in Dulwich Hill is closing down, resulting in a sense of loss for Sydney’s Greek community.
But Eleni Elefterias, one of three volunteers who run the shop and over the years have welcomed hundreds of people through the doors, admits that they have been fighting to make ends meet for some time now.
“The bookshop has been running on a voluntary basis for the last five years, and the thing is that it’s reached the stage now where it’s not covering its costs. We keep putting money from our own pocket and we just can’t do it anymore,” Eleni told Neos Kosmos.
Aside from the lack of sales, the volunteer attributes part of the problem to the increasing value of the euro, resulting in high costs for the importation of books.
“Even though a book would cost $30, $40 or $50 − it sounds like a lot of money – but the real price for a book in order for a bookshop to make money would be $69 to $74. We have not been running as a proper business,” she says.
In a bid to keep the shop alive, a number of wealthy individuals have been approached to assist with importing, but Eleni says everyone sees the bookshop as a business, thus failing to understand the shop’s philosophy.
“They think ‘ah well, we’re not going to help a business trying to make money’. But the thing is we’re trying to survive. We’ve never gotten a wage from it, we’ve actually used the money on different events and free things we can hold there for people,” she explained.
“Greeks are building restaurants here, building beautiful clubs; they’re creating all sorts of things, but they’re not actually creating a beautiful cultural centre.”
Since the news was announced, Eleni says the response has been overwhelming. With the bookshop being the only cultural events space in Sydney for Greeks, people are worried about losing a venue where they feel welcome, where they can gather with friends and make new ones.
The events space, however, will continue “for as long as costs can be covered”, with the continuation of Modern Greek classes and the inclusion of additional music and poetry events, and workshops for writers. Volunteers will also seek to maintain the online bookshop, but with more of a focus on books produced locally, namely by new publishing company Hellenic Theorem, headed by Vrasidas Karalis and with which Eleni is also involved.
“We are going to be supporting Greek writers here and in Greece who contact us and want their work sold. So we won’t be importing all general books, it’ll be more selected,” she said.
All books will be self-funded with the assistance of fundraising and will be working closely with Greek publishers to create a pathway for distribution of books both in Australia and in Greece. Their first book is due for release this year and is a collection of stories by Greek Australian authors.
But for Eleni, the closure of the bookshop cements one thing, and that’s for the Greek community of Sydney to band together and step up to the community’s needs.
“Ideally, what’s needed in Australia is that the Greek community should be supporting things like this and doing it themselves. They should be the ones importing books, offering them at cost price to Greeks; not running it as a business, but seeing it as a community service.”
If you would like to assist with keeping the events space open or getting Hellenic Theorem off the ground, visit www.facebook.com/bilingualbookshop and send Eleni a message.