OPINION

Death of a salesman

A gentleman called Antonis Panayiotou, whose barbershop used to be frequented by all the journalists passing through Syntagma, cashed his first pension check at the end of last year. But his old shop sign has not been taken down for the simple reason that no one could be convinced to pay a rent of 1,600-2,000 euros per month for a 20-square-meter space. In the same arcade, another six stores have been vacant for months or even years. It is as if Arthur Miller’s well-known play «Death of a Salesman» is being acted out daily in Athens and other big cities: Small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) are being crushed under the steamrollers of major commercial networks. This is all well known, even inevitable, but statistics show that this trend of major players profiting at the expense of small businesses is gathering pace. New figures comparing the first five months of this year to last year show that department store sales increased by 17.1 percent and supermarket sales by 12.3 percent. But there was a 1.3 percent drop in convenience store sales and a 2 percent drop in the sales of small clothing stores. These developments are not surprising: The consumer finds a wider variety of goods at lower prices in larger stores. But in America and Europe, small businesses survive by changing their profiles and working hours. Unfortunately, in our country the old middle-class strata are disappearing without being replaced by new ones. And this trend is disastrous for Greece, which traditionally had a large middle class whose businesses employed a large part of the labor force. The situation is made worse by our bureaucracy (which hinders business), by excessive taxation (which drives SMEs into tax evasion) and by exploitation by the banks. As for the government, it is simply absent.