A new commercial approach in downtown Athens

There?s some new commercial activity going on near Victoria Square in central Athens. Going against the current tide of grimness, three partners recently established Parapera — which means ?further? — an alternative kind of commercial center.

The idea is as simple as it is interesting: Young Greek artists and designers, people who are actually producing and making things, can now find a space in which to conduct business by renting a few square meters for a short amount of time (ranging from one week to six months) in return for a very low rental fee. In this way, artists and designers get the chance to show their work and introduce themselves to the public and to each other without having to bear the cost — both psychological and practical — of setting up a business in the current climate.

?As professionals, we are all suffering the consequences of the crisis. But we do live here, however, and we are tied to the country?s destiny. And there?s no point in complaining if you don?t have anything to suggest in return, something within your ability,? said electrical engineer Giorgos Vasiliadis, one of the founders of Parapera.

On the outside, the freshly painted listed building looks clean and beautiful. Standing on the corner of 61 Acharnon and Feron streets, it seems almost out of sync with the rest of the neighborhood.

According to its owner, architect Eleni Markovitsi, the building dates back to 1921. Formerly owned by the Goulandris family of shipowners, the construction features Gothic and Islamic elements of fortress architecture.

Inside the premises, the space resembles a work in progress. Jewelry, lamps, toys, garments, glass and other decorative objects, all handmade locally, are on display.

Given that the new venture?s funding came from private enterprise, the cost of the investment was kept at low levels. Doors were transformed into partitions, for instance, while the restaurant — offering food, coffee and drinks at ?post-crisis? prices — showcases secondhand chairs and refurbished tables. At the exhibitors? stands, shelves are made of cheap MDF rather than solid wood, which would have sent costs soaring.

?The idea was for the end product not to be burdened by extra costs. If we had spent a lot of money, we would have been obliged to increase the rental price of the stands,? noted Vasiliadis. The fact that the Parapera project involved people in the construction business was a plus. Ilias Tzakis, the third partner, for instance, is a civil engineer.

On the day of Kathimerini?s visit, two shiny folding bicycles stood in a corner. Though these were not made in Greece, as Vasiliadis pointed out, their presence was necessary in terms of establishing the venture?s identity vis a vis its city. Furthermore, Parapera is willing to host all of the developing citizens? movements, such as the Atenistas, a group of volunteers who organize events during which they clean up and prettify neglected parts of the capital. For a moment, everything seemed ideal. But was it not less than a month ago that a man was murdered only a few blocks away? Asked if the area was anti-commercial, Vasiliadis ensured me that right now the neighborhood might very well be Europe?s safest spot.

?The police are now present round the clock, while Ioulianou Street is cleaned twice a day. We know that this will not last long and we aware of this being a difficult neighborhood. On the other hand, it has certain commercial advantages compared to other areas. There is easy access to public transport, rents are low and the buildings are beautiful. So we are inviting other investors to join us.?

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