Greece makes late entry into the age of shopping malls

The last two weeks have seen spectacular changes in Greece’s shopping landscape with the opening of big malls and stores. First came the large mall in Thessaloniki, which opened a couple of weeks ago and cost 350 million euros. Put together by a Greek-Portuguese consortium, it was one of the biggest investments in the country in recent years and will employ some 2,500 people and another 500 for security and cleaning. The Athens Mall – a 200-million-euro investment which hosts 200 shops, 25 restaurants and 15 cinema screens and has created about as many jobs as the mall in Thessaloniki – opened in Maroussi last weekend. The day before, the German electric and electronic goods retailer Media Markt opened its 100-million-euro megastore near Athens, employing 350 people. These three big shopping venues were preceded in April by Attica, the biggest shopping center in downtown Athens. Attica, which carries dozens of brand names, cost 50 million euros to put together and employs about 1,500 people. Meanwhile, Greece has entered the hypermarket age with considerable delay. So what does this big shopping center trend mean? Some say the intensified competition will benefit consumers. Others say it will slowly kill Greece’s remaining small businesses. Consumers – as many as 200,000, according to estimates – flocked to the opening of these big shopping centers last weekend. Sales totaled about 3 million euros. Now it seems the way is open for large foreign investment schemes. Media Markt, for instance, is said to be planning to open another five large stores in provincial towns. Some believe foreign investors should put their money in industrial concerns, even though investment cannot be dictated. In the globalization era, foreign investors usually go where they project they can earn a satisfactory return. So, do our interests coincide with theirs? The frenzied consumers must have certainly thought so. But have we gained in terms of employment? Of course we have! For a country whose biggest concern is unemployment (10.4 percent this year, when the EU average is a little over 8 percent), the creation of 8,000 jobs is no small achievement. The changes, therefore, signal big opportunities for development. And trends elsewhere in Europe show that new investment will go into distribution networks, tourism, electricity and services in general. But what about small and midsized firms? There will no doubt be negative consequences, such those that small grocery stores suffered when supermarkets became dominant. But if the malls include small firms which manage to show profits, there is no reason why small traders cannot survive and even flourish if they specialize, offering products and services that hypermarkets shun.