Some 53,000 stores facing specter of closing down

Traditional commercial stores and small and medium-sized enterprises in general are in dire straits as a result of the considerable drop in consumption and the constant increase in popularity that malls are enjoying.

A European Commission survey recently presented by the National Confederation of Greek Commerce (ESEE) showed that the number of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Greece shrank by 30,000 between 2003 and 2010.

ESEE?s own data showed that 68,000 SMEs were driven out of the market from 2010 to 2011, while another 53,000 are likely to close down soon. Some 67,000 jobs were lost in the sector in the first nine months of the year alone.

Shop owners are predictably downbeat as more and more stores shut down in every neighborhood in the capital due to the fact that they are unable to service their debts, pay their taxes and withstand the drop in consumption, even though in many cases rental rates have declined significantly in the last two years.

Property market experts note that in certain cases rents have gone down by as much as 50 percent. On average the decline over the last couple of years has come to 25-30 percent compared with rental rates before the crisis. This year alone the level of rents has gone down by 10-20 percent, according to Danos/BNP Paribas.

Nevertheless the number of empty stores is growing by the day. ESEE data suggest that empty properties on Ermou Street and in Kolonaki, a traditionally upmarket district in central Athens, come to about 15-20 percent of the total. In the broader area of the capital?s historic center, empty stores now exceed 25 percent of the total, while if one also includes arcades and stores on the first floors of buildings, the empty ones amount to 50 percent of all shops.

The most recent figures compiled by the Association of Thessaloniki Tradesmen, concerning September 2011, show that 21 percent of stores in the center of the northern port city had shut down. Obviously the situation is putting extra pressure on rental rates, especially when one considers that the existing crisis and the drop in consumption is unlikely to be reversed in the next couple of years. All the signs point to a rebound coming much later.

On the other hand, shopping centers are weathering the crisis well. The Mall Athens showed a 2 percent increase in visitors and a 1 percent increase in turnover in the July-August period compared to the same period in 2010. The newest shopping center, Golden Hall, showed 5 percent growth in turnover and a 6 percent rise in visitors during the same period.

What?s more, the most recent entry into the mall market, Smart Park, opened on October 20 at Yialou near Spata, next to the McArthurGlen discount village. On its first Saturday of operation, Smart Park attracted no fewer than 15,000 visitors.