Diversity grows in downtown Athens stores

Abdul Gofour from Egypt runs a barbershop near Omonia. He came to Greece in 1996 and worked initially for a company in Aspropyrgos. He put some money aside and, with some additional financial help from his family, opened a barbershop a year-and-a-half ago. Recently he married a Russian girl. He charges 5 euros for a man’s haircut. Most of his customers are foreigners, but some Greeks who live in the neighborhood also come. Saturday is his busiest day, with customers waiting in line. On weekdays, many also drop by for a chat. Russian products In the Russian all-purpose store run by Nikos and Zoe Michalidis on Derigny Street, one can find genuine Russian vodka and caviar. Nikos worked in Germany for four years to save enough money to open the store. Nikos is a Black Sea Greek but he spent most of his life in Georgia. He understands the language, customs and needs of these people. In the mornings, the store fills up with women from Moldova, Georgia, Ukraine and Russia. Most of the products in the store are imported from Russia. Full house Zi Gou Zhou has a clothing store on Aristotelous Street with items priced between 3 and 15 euros. Not many Greeks live in the area so most of the customers are foreign and female (mainly Polish, Albanian or Russian but not many Asian women as they have their own stores). Zi Gou Zhou came from China seven years ago and opened the store in September 2005 along with her husband. The store is doing well but there has been a drop in business recently. People tend to buy something small and cheap. She has two children back in China and hopes that they will be able to come over to Greece soon. Cafe for Georgians The cafe in Aghiou Constantinou Street, owned by Katy Gogitsaishvili, is in an area with a number of travel agencies arranging trips to Georgia. Many Georgians tend to gather there. She opened the shop in order to have a steady income and finance her daughter’s studies. «I always liked making sweets, to welcome people at home. That’s why I decided to open the shop with money I had saved and loans from friends and relatives, «she said. «Hardly any Greeks come to the cafe but this might be because it hasn’t been open long,» she added. Call center On Voulgari Street, where most of the Pakistani-owned shops are to be found, Mohammed Imtias opened a photo shop which also doubles up as a call center. The store opened last November (Imtias worked 10 years in a factory in order to save enough money) and is run by Imtias and his four brothers. «It was an occupational solution for all of us,» he said. «There are many foreigners in the area who need to have photos taken for their residence permits and other immigrant documents. They also want to have photos taken to send to their families abroad.» The shop window is decorated with colorful photographs and is reminiscent of Indian cinema scenes. A photo sent to a relative living hundreds or thousands of kilometers away is usually greatly appreciated. Greengrocers for all At night, Sahandad Bougien visits the central fruit and vegetable market in order to get provisions for the minimarket that he runs along with his cousin in the area of Aghios Panteleimonas, a district that is full of ethnic shops. Bougien is from Bangladesh and he set up shop five years ago. «Most of the customers are foreign but I don’t know where they come from, I can’t tell by looking at their faces. We also have some regular Greek customers,» he said. Business was good at the beginning but has since dropped. Many foreigners try to cut down even on food in order to save money to bring their families to Greece. He himself has tried for years to bring his wife over but he hasn’t yet succeeded. Internet for a euro The store in Victoria Square where Anis Hussein works provides an Internet service for 1 euro an hour. «The store is owned by my cousin and I am an employee. I earn about 700 euros a month,» he said proudly. The shop window is full of clocks and other small devices but only one or two of these are sold a month. Foreigners come here to use the Internet and talk to their families using the microphones and cameras provided. As the store is situated opposite a KEP office (Citizens Advice Bureau) they also offer a photocopy service. However, the store does not make a profit and just about pays running expenses. Ukranian pirozhki With an old recipe she inherited from her grandmother, Larisa Kounitska has acquired a following of pirozhki (stuffed pastries) lovers at her store on Acharnon Street. Kounitska has been in Greece for 13 years and worked in a number of cafes before opening her own, which she later sold to start her pirozhki enterprise. Many taxi drivers come at dawn to eat this Ukranian delicacy. Genuine Indian dishes Fazan Has, who came from India 39 years ago, believes the situation in Greece was better before. He has married a Greek here and runs the Gandhi eatery, which serves authentic Indian dishes to Greeks and some tourists. When cooking for Greeks, he makes the dishes less spicy as they can be too spicy for the Greek palate. Fazan believes his eatery is the only one that offers dishes based on genuine Indian recipes. «I have lived a good life here in Greece and I love the country. I believe Greece loves me too,» he said.

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