NEWS

Shopping and entertainment on a grand scale

Cities within a city that not only include stores and cinemas but luxury suites, conference centers, spas and child-care centers – even a church – are being built in Athens and Thessaloniki over thousands of square meters. According to current estimates, a range of such establishments will be opening for business within the year. They are all being built along the familiar but controversial lines of the capacious malls in the US, a model that has begun to spread throughout the rest of the world, including Greece, over the past decade. Experience has shown that these huge urban centers not only create a chain reaction within local markets but also upset the character of the surrounding area. Many independent outlets are forced to change their focus in order to meet the competition, unless they simply close down, while these giant commercial and entertainment complexes become reference points for the city, often replacing the traditional center. Multiplexes and parks An initial splash has already been made in the city center with the Attica, the largest department store in the country, part of the City Link project totaling 65,000 square meters which will be opening shortly. A gigantic shopping and entertainment «park,» the Mediterranean Cosmos, is to open in Thessaloniki in October, complete with 222 stores and even a church (perhaps because the land belongs to the Ecumenical Patriarchate). Also before the year is out, the impressive Pantheon is to open its doors on Pireos Street in Athens. Apart from the 7,000-seat Athinon Arena concert hall, it will have 70 luxury suites, a gym and spa as well as a helipad for wealthy customers in a hurry. The Cineville entertainment center, which will open next to the Nerantziotissa suburban rail station, hopes to rival the Village Center at Maroussi, while the Kosmopolis Park that has already opened in Komotini, in northern Greece, has 130 studio apartments rented chiefly to students at the local university. «The fashion for shopping malls began during the 1980s,» said Thanassis Moutsopoulos, an architect and art historian at Patras University. «This model was soon seen to be a failure since most of their store space remained empty. In recent years another trend has emerged, to include all kinds of entertainment, such as the Village Center in Maroussi, but on a much larger scale.» «These multiplexes have slowly replaced the traditional center in each area, as they concentrate nearly all kinds of activities within their walls. Small stores have been forced to close due to the competition or, at best, to change.» As for the aesthetics and the building models introduced by these new destinations, Moutsopoulos claims they have abandoned Greek culture and had a suffocating effect on surrounding buildings unless they are built on a similar scale. A different view is put forward by Nikos Intsesiloglou, professor of law and sociology at the Thessaloniki University’s School of Legal, Economic and Political Sciences, who sees the multiplexes as a new version of the «public square» in the manner of the old bazaars that provided a variety of activities and served as a meeting place for the residents of a wider area. «The concept of the public square is still alive but has simply changed form. The new multiplexes contribute to the cultivation of personal contacts between people,» he said. The Komotini model, he said, where studio apartments have been built above the cinemas and stores, is a new kind of micro-society where people have direct contact with each other. «It breaks up the isolation created by television and the Internet,» he said. Many people view the concentration of commerce and entertainment in relatively few hands as just a sign of the times. «In recent years large business groups have been formed, putting the market in the hands of a few individuals and therefore restricted geographically. The appearance of these multiplexes is a typical example of this,» according to Vassilis Theoharakis, a professor of marketing. However, he noted that these complexes are adapted to the needs and demands of today’s consumers. «The consumer wants to satisfy his or her needs easily and quickly.» And this is the main advantage of the modern multiplex according to businessmen involved in them. «The public wants entertainment, a night out. These centers are the ideal choice as they provide many alternative forms of entertainment,» said Giorgos Siortikos, managing director of Piraeus Real Estate that administers City Link, Cineville and Kosmopolis Park. According to Haris Antonopoulos, managing director of the Village Group that has acquired 11 new cinemas in Thessaloniki’s Mediterranean Cosmos, the idea of moving from venues such as Maroussi’s Village Center to giant entertainment complexes with over 200 stores emerged about five years ago when multiplexes saw business begin to decline. «We saw that cinemas alone were not enough to attract people, who were starting to look for alternatives. What was needed was a destination where one could be entertained for 4-5 hours.»