NEWS

Attica’s shopkeepers rue the day the bulldozers rolled in and began digging

Think of a store located on one of Athens’s main shopping strips, with thousands of potential customers walking past each day. Then think of those same customers trying to reach the store: avoiding the dust in the air, jumping over large ruts in the pavement, scrambling over mounds of debris and maneuvering their way around dangerous steel sheeting and plastic mesh. This scene has been evident all over Attica the past couple of years, and shop owners unlucky enough to be located anywhere near the extensive construction work that is taking place in view of the Olympic Games are suffering. Counting the loss of time they have incurred, owners of small and medium-sized businesses are struggling to stay afloat and hoping for better days once construction works are completed. Katerina Grapsa owns a liquor store on Voulis Street in central Athens, and until recently she enjoyed brisk business. The countdown for her started with renovation works on the pedestrian road in the area. «The decline in customers was huge. People were unable to approach the store,» she says. But even when the main part of the works were completed, she saw little change. «Constant digging and renovation throughout the center have affected traffic in a big way. Ermou is constantly being dug up. It is an ordeal for the public and for us as well.» All talk? Grapsa does not believe that store owners in the city center will be able to make up lost profits during the Olympic Games in August. «We hear a lot of talk, but I fear little will happen,» she admits. «The prices for accommodation during that period are very high and I think people will have very little to spend on gifts.» Costas Trakadas, a gift-shop owner in the Maroussi’s central shopping area, has lost hope of making up lost ground. «The street on which my shop is located has become a semi-pedestrian zone. Construction began in January and is still under way. «There was also a lot of bad construction carried out. At Easter, they put down cement to make walking along the road easier, but then the power company came along and dug it all up again because they had forgotten to lay down the wiring.» The result of all this was a sharp decline in business, which Trakadas estimates at 50 percent. «We became volunteers of the Games without ever applying for the position,” added Trakadas. «The Traders Association has taken some steps to ensure compensation for lost revenue, but I am not willing to get myself embroiled in the process. I don’t even want to know anymore.» Old stock Trouble for Eva Polychronou began some two-and-a-half years ago when construction work began on the Pefkakia station of the ISAP electric railway line. Her lingerie store is located right across the street from the station’s entrance. «They said they’d be finished in a year. Instead, the entire road in front of the street was closed off for a whole year with metal sheeting that left just a meter of sidewalk room for pedestrians. The only people who walked past the shop were residents. We were practically invisible,» she laments. One year has now become two and work continues. «They told us they would be finished by [last] Christmas, so we ordered new stock, which, of course, we are now stuck with. The same happened at Easter. Now it’s summertime and the works are not finished. If we didn’t have a few steady customers to rely on, we would have been forced to close down a long time ago,» she says. «But who’s going to pay us back for the losses we have already suffered?» Costas Themelidis in Nea Makri is another shop owner facing closure. «Works to broaden Marathonos Avenue have essentially split the town in two. Sidewalks have been halved. We don’t even know if and where there will be pedestrian crossings. We don’t even know when they will be finished.» Construction on Marathonos began two years ago and is still heavily under way. «I have lost 70 percent of my business,» says the disgruntled appliance store owner. «Many shops have shut down permanently. A few days ago we re-established the local association of professionals and some have been talking about an 80 percent drop in turnover. I am struggling to stay afloat, hoping that things will take a turn for the better.»