Not too long ago Friday was a great day for businesses in downtown Athens. While the number of customers at stores may have been fewer compared to those who strolled the streets on Saturdays, they invariably spent more money on shopping.
That was then. The picture now is quite different.
?On Fridays especially, the city center seems deserted after 5 p.m. It?s as though people are trying to get way from it as fast as possible,? a downtown restaurant owner told Kathimerini.
According to Sotiris Antoniou, head of the Athens Traders Association, the situation has deteriorated further following rioting and destruction during an anti-austerity rally on February 12.
But, it was the large-scale damage inflicted on the city on that day that gave rise to the Friday in Athens initiative.
The Athens Traders Association, in collaboration with the Region of Attica, the City of Athens, the Unification of the Archaeological Sites of Athens SA (EAXA) and businesses operating in the city center are organizing a series of events taking place on the next three consecutive Fridays around the city, from 5-10 p.m.
?We believe that if the city center fills up with people and light, crime will disappear as if by magic,? said Antoniou.
As part of the campaign, a number of downtown theaters are selling tickets at half-price, stores are offering discounts, and certain restaurants and bars are lowering their prices as well.
?People reacted very positively last Friday,? noted Aris Tsanaklidis, owner of Kuzina in Thisseio. The restaurant is offering a 20-percent discount to diners on the aforementioned dates.
On the first day of the campaign last Friday, March 16, there was plenty of activity on Monastiraki Square as an ensemble danced tango to live music and members of Athens Local — a group of residents offering guided tours of the city to foreign visitors — entertained some 300 students visiting Athens for an international forum.
The Association of Greek National Guides is also organizing a free-of-charge, Athens-by-night guided tour of the city on Friday, March 23. (For more information on this and other events visit the website: www.athensfridays.gr).
On the group?s website, moreover, shopowners and other professionals can post information regarding their own voluntary initiatives — including sales, special offers and events.
Among the sponsors of the Friday in Athens effort is Skai Radio.
Meanwhile, the need to fight against the city center?s economic and social decay was the focus of a presentation by the Economic and Social Council of Greece (OKE) on Monday. Speaking at the presentation, the organization?s president, Christos Polyzogopoulos argued that the city?s problems are based on four fundamental issues: the financial crisis, illegal immigration, the discontinuation of measures to improve the quality of life in Athens and safety.
Among OKE?s numerous proposals for rejuvenating Athens were incentives for businesses and residents to return to the center, an overall revamp of the city?s image, a review of the city?s promotional campaigns, the promotion of urban tourism programs, the establishment of a bureau assisting film productions as well as the relocation of various state organizations back to the city center.
While several of the proposals put across have already been presented by other institutions in the past, a number of ideas presented by OKE were of interest. So why is it that none of the above measures have been implemented so far?
According to OKE, one of the main reasons is that dealing with the problems in Athens requires a high level of coordination between the several ministries and state departments involved, and that the failure of one step can jeopardize the entire program?s success.