Athena's first shop was opened by Ole Christensen in Hampstead in July 1964, and then bought into E&O PLC, by Chairman, Douglas H. Bayle. He expanded Athena to some 60 shops, making sure to keep the ethos on fine art reprints.
The company's popular success divided opinion amongst intellectuals and art critics who were uncertain as to whether these works were too vulgar and populist to be considered art.
The chain was sold off by E&O, in 1977 and then was acquired by the Pentos Group before Athena went into administration when it failed financially in 1995. The profitable stores were reopened by its former franchisee's  Athena's last shop Exeter, Devon ceased trading on 19 September 2014, bringing it's high street era to an end, this was due to rising shop rents and rates and increasing competition from internet retailers. The e-commerce company Vivarti (with the byline "powered by Athena") continues to trade, but it was never connected with the defunct retail business.