Bookstores judged by their cafes

Consumers in downtown Athens often combine shopping with coffee, a social encounter, and a dose of culture. Enterprises are paying more attention to the place where they choose to set up business, not just the interior design but also the exterior of the buildings. Athenians have learned to appreciate the history of their city, and businesses that take over grubby, neglected buildings know how to spruce them up for new uses. The main branch of the Public chain in Syntagma Square is one example. The Pallis building, until recently a blot on the landscape of downtown Athens, sparkles after its makeover. It offers five floors of products, all dedicated to culture and recreation. Its target group goes beyond the young generation who are keen on electronic gadgets, and includes the growing number of women who shop downtown and who buy books and CDs for themselves or as gifts. The Eleftheroudakis, Ianos and Papasotiriou bookstores, all on Panepistimiou Street, appeal to the same group. Each has it own particular strengths but all of them cater to the preferences apparent in the results of a poll conducted in May this year by Metron Analysis for the National Book Center of Greece. Asked what they thought improved a bookstore, 39.1 percent of customers said a cafe, 19.2 percent a large range of titles,13.6 percent a member card and 12.5 percent home delivery. The same survey showed that 65.5 percent of the sample buys books and similar products from chain stores. Interestingly, most customers choose books directly from display tables rather than looking for the titles they want on the shelves. What do the new chains offer? For a start, they do not concentrate solely on books. The ground floor of Public sells computers and other electronic goods. But the top floors have hundreds of thousands of books. The cafe at Ianos has become an established venue, now hosting the majority of book-related events, displacing the more conventional Stoa tou Vivliou book arcade. Eleftheroudakis is competitive, with its revamped cafe, foreign-language books and wide selection of titles. Metron’s survey also revealed that most of those questioned take no more than 15 minutes to choose a book. That leaves them ample time just to hang out, and the cafes that so many bookstores have incorporated are a distinct attraction. In fact, many customers start at the cafe before going to other floors to check out the merchandise.