Personal touch, overheads, risks

The overheads are a problem, as a shopkeeper who runs a women’s clothing store, who chose to remain anonymous, explained. «The rent and social insurance are the first things to go unpaid when a shop is in trouble,» he said. «Running expenses amount to thousands of euros a month, including tax and utility bills as well as staff wages and social insurance.» He won’t take on staff because he knows he could not afford to compensate them if he had to lay them off. He’s been in the business 18 years and says the secret is «to be smart and conservative at the same time. Cultivate a personal relationship with your customers.» Hard to close Anna Tsichlopoulou has been running a gift shop since 2001. «I’ve often thought of closing down,» she said, «but it is harder to close a store than to open one» because of all the outstanding payments and practical matters that have to be sorted. But she likes her work, which she finds creative. She earns very little income from it, just enough to pay her children’s extra tuition fees and some pocket money. But she’s philosophical: «Do you know how many books I’ve read here when there are no customers? Never mind. Knowledge is gain.» Competition Jeweler Christos Pik-radis has had a store in Aghiou Dimitriou Square since 1987, when there were six jewelers in the area. Now there are 16 or 17, and he believes they offer the same services as stores downtown, plus personal attention. He would like to find a space in a mall. «So many people go by that if you look after your store and set it up right there’s no way you won’t have work.» Recently he invested a lot of money in a move to a more central part of the square. «I used to work with regular customers; now it’s passers-by, and there’s four times as much business. It was a risk taken at a difficult time in the market, but so far it’s worked out well.»

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