2015 | Dec
Local trade by SMEs is one of the sectors that suffered a heavy blow , after 2010, in many outer and central neighbourhoods of Greek cities (and Athens in particular), due to the economic crisis.
In studies commissioned by Chambers of Commerce and in the bulletins of the Statistical Authority one notes an increasing decline of commercial activity in Athens and Piraeus, the key features of which are a gradual increase in the number of vacant business premises and a continuous drop in the turnover of small retail businesses. The same picture is also portrayed in the Press, which often exaggerates, presenting the commercial centres of the two cities as “destroyed zones”. The interpretations of this crisis of small retailers, were mainly based on prevailing stereotypes, attributing it to increased delinquency, insecurity, the presence of immigrant street vendors and political demonstrations.
The long-term abandonment of public spaces in the centre of the capital, after the impressive renaissance of 2004 and the boom and bust of the real estate market, led to a huge stock of vacant buildings, generating “black holes” in central urban areas. This was combined with the permanent obsolescence of listed buildings that were already abandoned.
The study and systematic recording of the problem of vacant business premises in representative neighbourhoods and central street sections in Athens and Piraeus offered a detailed and complex description of shrinkage trends. It therefore highlighted crucial variations depending on the type of commercial activity, geography and the intensity of the phenomenon. The data for 2010-2013 allowed this research to focus on parts of Kypseli, Vathis Square, Metaxourgeio, Exarchia, Koukaki and the Centre of Piraeus.
The findings show interesting variations in the patterns of vacancy. Overall, we observe a huge percentage of vacant premises, ranging from 25% to 50% of the total stock. Two types of trade showed resilience: wholesale by immigrants, which also positively affects neighbouring trade by natives, and cheap bric-a-brac. On the contrary, retail stores located in expensive streets, selling apparel, luxury goods, vehicles etc. which developed in the prosperous times around 2000-2004, have mostly disappeared. Various fluctuations can also be observed between main and secondary roads.
Map 1: Kypseli (Drosopoulou, Aghias Zonis and Kyprou streets) – Types of shops
Source: Gleni V. et al (2013)
In this period, 40% of retail businesses in the main shopping streets of Kypseli shut down, the highest “shut-down” rate recorded for the commercial centre of Athens. Different types of shops were equally affected, while, geographically, there are fewer closed businesses in the main pedestrian area of Agia Zoni and on the main commercial axis of Drosopoulou Street, compared to secondary commercial roads.
A critical element for commercial activity in Kypseli is the participation of immigrants, which ranges from 10% in Agia Zoni to 25% in Drosopoulou Street. Native run and immigrant run shops were equally affected. The percentage of vacant premises ranged from 25% to 35%, depending on the location.
Vathi Square – Agios Pavlos
In the area of Vathis Square and Agios Pavlos, vacant premises are the norm. This picture, combined with abandoned neoclassical listed buildings, vacant office and apartment blocks and abandoned plots, create a sense of desolation. However, this region preserves its multifunctional character to a large extent. A large part of the area is covered by residences and many shops, especially in main streets and around Agios Pavlos Square.
Map 2: Metaxourgheio (Meg. Alexandrou, Agisilaou and Kerameikou streets ) – Types of shops
Source: Gleni V. et al (2013)
In the main commercial streets of Metaxourgeio, the 23% vacancy rate is lower than the average for the centre of Athens. The smallest rate of vacant premises is to be found on Agisilaou Street, where there are mainly wholesalers, a commercial activity with greater resilience, although they appeared in the area just over the last fifteen years. In the case of Metaxourgeio, immigrant shops prevail, although with geographic variations. Most immigrant-run shops are located on Kolokynthous and Agisilaou streets. In both streets, Chinese shopkeepers mainly operate in wholesale and they attracted some 40 similar businesses by Greek shopkeepers after 2009.
Map 3: Exarchia – Vacant shops and buildings
Source: Listing produced in January-February 2012, in the course Urbanism I: Analytic approach of Urban Space (5th semester-School of Architecture, NTUA). Assoc. Prof. N. Belavilas – teaching assistants P. Prentou and I. Polyzou.
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