The stories of “firsts” are testaments to the forward-thinking mind-set and courage of those who decide to try something new, despite the risks. The story of the first supermarket in Athens is no different. The Thanopoulos family business became the catalyst for the modernization of the wholesale and retail trade of food and non-food items in Greece. Its evolution over more than a century reflects the evolution of the city itself, as it abandoned the outdated structures of the past and embraced the modern era.
In 1877, Panagiotis Thanopoulos, a sharp and hardworking man, migrated from the mountains of Arcadia to Athens, where he opened his first grocery store on Aiolou Street, then the center of the capital’s commercial district. The shop was a big hit, as it capitalized on the needs of a society that didn’t have access to the mod cons that we take for granted today while introducing higher standards of hygiene and customer service.
“From ‘Groceries – Colonial Products’ to Supermarkets,” a new book by historian Lydia Sapounaki-Drakaki and architect Maria Louza Tzogia-Moatsou, goes beyond the history of the family business to explore its impact on society at large. It is a narrative that offers insights into the evolution of the social fabric. The authors aimed to document how business practices evolved and at the same time explore how the small 19th century capital of a country on the edge of Europe grew to become the metropolis it is today.
Conditions of hygiene in the 19th century Athenian marketplace left much to be desired, so it was no wonder the Thanopoulos supermarket marked the beginning of a new era.
At the time, animals were still slaughtered on the spot, food could not be stored for extended periods, and the market wasn’t connected to the water network until 1930.
The advent of a retail store that sold food products was a window not only to the West but to the future. Ahead of its time, the Thanopoulos supermarket also had a delicatessen section. Newspaper advertisements showcased the breadth of imported goods stocked by the store, offering locals the chance to try new new flavors and enriching Greece’s culinary culture.
In May 1931, embracing his father’s entrepreneurial spirit, Pantelis Thanopoulos moved to new premises in Hafteia, near Omonia Square. The risky – but ultimately successful – move triggered a series of expansions in the post-war years. And before they knew it, Athens had changed alongside its first supermarket.
In the 1980s the family business, sensing the potential of the northern suburbs, moved to Kifissia; in the 90s they opened a second store, near the electric railway station, and, more recently, another, in nearby Nea Erythraia.
Fast-forward to today and the Thanopoulos business – now in its third century of operation and run by a fourth generation of the same family – represents one of the few surviving examples to have enjoyed such long-term success.