The amount of available commercial rental space in the center of Athens rose to 15.1 percent at the end of June, up from 13.8 percent at the end of last year, according to a recent study by the Hellenic Property Federation (POMIDA). The increasing availability of commercial rental space is due to larger amounts of retail space on offer in the central shopping streets of Athinas, Aeolou, Ermou and Stadiou. The growing availability of space is also is due to the difficult economic conditions encountered by the sector, as recent hikes in interest rates have contributed to a slowing of consumption in the country. If it weren’t for foreign businessmen, the figure would be much higher, as these retailers take up about 50 percent of space in the city center and some 80 percent of space in the historic part of the city, according to a source. Available retail rental space in the historic city center, around the districts of Plaka and Monastiraki, decreased slightly in the same time period. Apart from difficult trading conditions, shopowners have blamed regular city protests for harming business. In the first half of 2008, on average seven to eight days of trade were lost each month due to protests which often created traffic havoc, not only in the center of Athens but around the whole city. The demonstrations not only hurt sales but also increased costs for businesses, said POMIDA, a non-profit organization representing about 40 property owner groups. Figures show that labor costs for businesses in the central district reached an estimated total 400,000 euros per day, while their total operating costs are seen as exceeding 1 million euros per day. Vacancy rates on the city’s main commercial streets, such as Athinas and Stadiou, rose to 15.4 percent at the end of June from 12 percent at the end of last year. The respective figure stood at 11.3 percent at the end of June last year. The POMIDA study takes into account commercial space that fronts a street and does not record areas in arcades or on floors above ground level, indicating that the total vacancy figure in the city center is much higher.