Buyers, sellers blame euro for high prices

It’s 11 a.m. and the local street market in Hellenikon, Metamorphosi Sotiros, is in full swing. «Fresh peaches, they’re throbbing!» «Tomatoes for 1 euro and a free cell phone!» «Take these ones, I tell you, and you’ll fall in love!» The vendors’ voices can be heard blocks away. They mingle with the sound of the metal shopping trolleys pulled by the customers, most of them women of a certain age. «I was going to cook stuffed vegetables today, but I can’t even fill up a tray of them at your prices,» one says. «But what else can I do now that I’ve promised my grandson I’d make them?» Social occasion Stall keepers and customers tease each other readily; after all, most of them know each other well. The same stall keepers and customers have been coming here for years. Street markets have always been an occasion for a walk, conversation, gossip – a weekly date that people would keep even if their refrigerator was full of fresh vegetables. As the rising cost of living takes its toll on Greek household budgets, a visit to the local market is still a regular event. Besides, in comparison with supermarkets, street markets allow for bargaining over prices that may seem high but do not cross the line into profiteering. Having watched so many television reports on prices at local markets, shoppers are wary. «How much did you buy those peaches for? The middlemen are ripping you off!» shouts one woman, while another woman says, «The euro has confused us all.» The euro – seen as the main culprit – is the most popular topic of conversation and one on which stall holders and shoppers agree. «We can’t pretend,» says Panayiotis Karastamatis, a producer from Megara, Attica, who has had a market stall for 30 years. «The euro completely changed things. In the past, someone could fill up their shopping trolley for 5,000 drachmas, now they can’t fill it up even for 50 euros. Everything is more expensive.» He explains why people still keep coming to street markets even though there is a supermarket on every corner: «It’s obvious that what they’re looking for is quality.» Less but better Aliki, a pensioner, couldn’t put it more clearly: «I prefer to eat less but better. It’s true that things are more expensive at the street market than they were before the euro. I remember buying the same things two years ago for at least 20 euros less. But even though I live on a pension, I don’t look at the prices. I choose the stalls I shop from by their look, both of the produce and the sellers.» Not everyone sees it like that. Most customers go to the market after 2 p.m., when the best produce has gone and prices fall dramatically. «In the afternoon prices fall 50 percent or more,» Nikos Drossos, a stall holder since 1955, told Kathimerini. «But that doesn’t mean we are profiteering,» he adds, taking out of his pocket the invoice showing what he paid for the goods he is selling. «Look, white peaches, for example; I buy them at 1 euro and 20 cents and sell at 1.50, when I should get 1.80 for them. But I can’t because people won’t buy even thought they are of excellent quality. I should be selling these plums at 1.50 but I sell them for 1.30. I buy pears at 1 euro and sell them for 1.30 and I buy rock melons for 60 cents and sell them for 70. «When the market is closing, I might sell them below cost, because if I have any left over I’m ruined. Just look around at what’s happening. The place is packed, even though the produce on sale isn’t the highest quality.» Besides, Drossos believes, few customers are able to recognize the best fruit and vegetables and stall holders know how to camouflage any flaws. «I can make an apple look as if it has just been cut,» he claims. More variety As a rule, you get what you pay for at the local market. «That’s one good thing about the market,» says stall holder Yiannis Karaiskos. «It suits all budgets. People complain about the euro just like they used to complain about 100 drachmas. The fact is that the ‘laiki’ is an X-ray of the market. It’s got everything and it’s worth it.» Apart from the arrival of the uniform currency, people were concerned when local markets started selling items only sold in stores until recently. Today they offer everything from toys to clothes in extra-large sizes. Entertaining «It’s good to have more variety. More people come to shop,» says salesman Nikolaos Yiannaris. And Drossos says: «It would be good to have even more, and for the market to stay open till the evening so that people would get a chance to come and shop. Now they have to rush to get here. You can see they like shopping here – not just for the prices, but for the atmosphere of an outdoor market. You have to admit, it’s entertaining.»