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The centre of Athens once bright has faded to gray

17 December 2010 / 12:12:16  GRReporter
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A day after the Panhellenic strike the centre of Athens looks like a beaten animal that licks its wounds. The places where there were burning bins yesterday are cleared, the broken windows are replaced and the burnt cars are removed. Sellers are awaiting customers in the shops but a few people are going to shop along the biggest shopping street in the country Ermou. Bright, joyful and full of life once, today Ermou seems sad, empty and lifeless.

My attempts to talk with any of the shop owners about their problems were rejected everywhere. The replies or the refusals I faced could be classified into three categories: direct, indirect and downright offensive. Here are some of them: "Why are you here today? You had to be here yesterday.", "I do not want to talk.", "The boss is not here, come tomorrow.", "What more can I say? You know the situation, don’t you?", "I said what I wanted to say at the right place.", and, of course, "The more damage the politicians have done, the more have the journalists added. So, I have nothing to say.", said and old salesman.

What do we all know and shopkeepers do not want to comment? It is that shop owners, especially those whose shops are located in downtown Athens, are preparing for the worst Christmas period in the last ten years. Most people just look at the windows days before Christmas and a few are those who decide to buy anything. Strikes, rallies and protests that are likely to continue in the coming days literally block the centre of Athens every other day. Thus, the few customers who would still decided to buy some Christmas presents do not go downtown but prefer the large shopping centres located in the Athens suburbs.

"The decline from the beginning of the year is 15 – 17 percent and if the centre of Athens continues to be closed that often this percentage will increase further," they said from the retail association. It had come up with a proposal the shops to open last Sunday, December 12 to boost the suffering shopping centre in Athens. In parallel, the City Hall had decided to stop the traffic along one of the central boulevards – Panepistimiou - to organize various games and activities for children and their parents. All these efforts went in vain since public transport employees decided to strike the same day.

According to the national confederation of Greek traders, the forecasts of market movement are ominous. There is a serious danger of sharp drop in turnover which will be € 3 billion lower in 2010 due to reduced consumer power, increased number of unemployed and raised excise duties and taxes in the fourth quarter. The 13th salary of retirees from the public and private sector cut is expected to cause losses of 240 million euros and even more serious will be the consequences of the unpaid 13th salary to civil servants and state companies’ employees. They urged from the confederation of traders the people to support the market during the holidays and show "more humanity and solidarity."

Holiday opening hours are effective from today. The shops are open from 9 am to 9 pm; they will be open next Sunday too. Windows are long dressed in Christmas decorations, lights glow and Christmas tunes could be heard here and there. But there are no customers.

While I was preparing to go into another shop in my attempt to talk to someone, a teenager wrote with marker on the facade of one of the shops on the Kapnikareas square. A passerby asked him "Why are you writing there? What have shops done to you to punish them in this way?" The young man walked away and started running when he heard the passerby to call the police, which never came. "He is right. They clean and paint every week. I wonder how the people who have shops resist that pressure," said the woman cleaning the small church. She had gone out obviously accustomed to witnessing such strife.

Tags: Athens centreShopsRetailersEconomic crisisChristmasShopping
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