As we enter 2016, the prolonged economic crisis in Greece, compounded by new austerity measures imposed by European lenders, appears to be having a crushing effect on small business in the country. We live in a middle/upper-middle class suburb that has withstood the crisis reasonably well up until now. That is to say, there are no newly homeless sleeping on the streets, no rash of drug addiction and suicides, nor many of the other symptoms of a ravaged society that can be found in some city neighborhoods. But nor are we in the land of BMW’s and elegant mansions, the realm of the truly rich Athenians, seemingly untouched by the crisis.
We have lived here for nearly two years now and in that time we have seen a constant decline in the fortunes of the small businesses of our neighborhood. The number of empty storefronts has steadily mounted to the point where they now are at least close to outnumbering the going concerns–if not already exceeding them. The pictures below are all taken within just a few blocks of our apartment and, so, represent a small slice of the closed up businesses in our town, which are a very small sliver of all the recently closed businesses in the Athens metro area. (Scroll over pictures to see captions.)
As I was taking photos on one particularly hard-hit street I literally bumped into an elderly woman passing by. “This used to be all thriving shops on this street. Now look at it,” she said, waving her hand along the length of the street. “All closed up. What will all the young people do?” she asked, shaking her head. “It’s a real shame.”
Yes, I agreed, it is a real shame. Athens has valiantly resisted over the years domination by large, foreign chain stores, with folks preferring to do their shopping in small stores close to home. But many of these stores have been hanging on by a thread throughout the long years of economic crisis and now, as many had predicted, the weight of the new austerity measures is proving the final blow for many. A new government requirement that businesses pay their entire annual estimated tax bill in advance, in combination with anemic demand from cash-starved locals, is proving to be a crushing weight that many small shops can no longer bear.
But here’s the odd thing–some businesses are not only staying alive, but thriving. What are they? Perhaps not entirely what you would expect–fancy, high-end bakeries (several of which have opened up in our neighborhood recently), hair salons, gift shops (our friend P. says business is booming for him lately in his family-owned store), cafés, and pet shops. What do these businesses have in common? They are all places where people can indulge in small luxuries for themselves, their friends, or their beloved creatures. A nice cake to bring to a friend (a must for all social visits here) or a little present for yourself or a friend to celebrate something–anything–rather than simply giving in to depression at the sad state of your life.
Just as we noticed in August that every Greek we knew, despite their financial straits, was going off on an extended holiday somewhere, the Greek people seem to be collectively saying, “The hell with the crisis–I’m going to do something nice for myself today and worry about tomorrow…tomorrow.”
Some success stories in our neighborhood: