A stroll through Athens’s cheap markets

The center of the city below Omonia Square is brimming with life and color. The shops are filled with merchandise at very low prices, as many Athenians have discovered, either out of necessity or because these downmarket areas are becoming trendy. Chinese stores are spread around Sophocleous Street, selling everything from clothing and footwear to watches and fishing rods. Clothes here are very inexpensive, from 6 to 10 euros for a woman’s winter blouse and 8 to 15 euros for a pair of men’s trousers. Real bargains are to be found, such as men’s anoraks or women’s coats in last year’s styles at 8 and 10 euros. Some Chinese stores sell only running shoes at prices ranging from 8 (for children’s shoes) to 18 euros. On the same street we found stores selling kitchen goods at very low prices: three steel knives for just 2 euros, an egg-cutter for 1 euro and a multimixer for 6 euros. Further afield there are Bangladeshi and Arab grocery stores with basic goods such as milk, sugar, flour and coffee, also at lower prices than in supermarkets. We bought a kilo of koulourakia with sesame seeds and nuts for 3.99 euros. Our second stop was the «stock street» at the end of Eleftheriou Venizelou Street in Nea Smyrni. Versace would be spinning in his grave if he knew that a pair of pants of his design was selling for just 68 euros here, less than half the usual price. Armani would also pale at the knowledge that a pair of his famous jeans was going for 50 euros. These stock houses are popular with local residents because they cannot afford to buy brand names at regular prices but want good-quality clothing. There are others who head straight for these stores as a protest against exorbitant market prices elsewhere; they don’t care if the clothes are last year’s fashions. Fashion, in any case, doesn’t change as rapidly as the magazines claim. On to the Lidl supermarket in Kallithea, where customers throng the aisles and form long queues at the cash registers, but without the usual hustle and bustle found in a supermarket. Here people speak in whispers, as if taking part in a conspiracy. Lidl’s prices are low indeed. A tin of instant coffee costs 2.79 euros, a tin of condensed milk 0.67 euros, a packet of flour 0.49 euros, two liters of olive oil 4.99 euros, a can of condensed fruit juice 0.59 euros and smoked salmon at 2.87 euros. «We have to put food on the table every day,» one customer, a Russian immigrant, said. «Here I can fill my shopping basket.» Another woman was rummaging through the clothing counter. She picked up a pair of men’s boots. She looked too well-dressed to be on a tight budget. «I am just tired of paying out so much money for nothing. If I can, why shouldn’t I get things cheaper?» she asked. The shoes she was looking at cost 9.99 euros. On the next shelf, a cotton bed sheet was priced at 4.79 and a rucksack at 5.99 euros. On the way out, we picked up a brochure advertising children’s jeans for 7.99 euros, men’s flannel shirts for 3.99 euros, women’s shoes for 12.99 euros and a saucepan for 4.99 euros. Clothes and kitchenware are sold in nearly every street market (laiki), where the prices of vegetables and fruit might have their ups and downs, but real bargains are there for the taking on the clothing carts. In the Perissos street market, maths teacher B.K. said she shopped for clothes in the laiki because she couldn’t afford to spend 100 euros on a pair of jeans from a store. «The quality isn’t bad and I don’t care if it isn’t a name brand,» she said. We found jeans for 10 euros, T-shirts for 4 euros, long-sleeved shirts for 10-12 euros, a track suit for 3 euros, trousers for 10-15 euros and running shoes for 15-20 euros.