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Crisis shuts one third of Athens shops

Monday, September 24 17:12:03

Greece's deep recession has forced almost a third of businesses in the capital's commercial district to close down as shrinking incomes and frequent strikes drive Athenians away.

Tens of thousands of small businesses, which make up a big chunk of the struggling economy, have shut since Greece secured a 110-billion-euro bailout package in 2010 in exchange for promises of painful austerity measures.

On the capital's cobbled pedestrian shopping streets, long lines of shops are boarded shut while others have "Everything must go" signs plastered across their windows. Some arcades, once bustling with activity, are empty and enclosed by derelict buildings.

In the city's "commercial triangle", where generations of merchants had run successful businesses a stone's throw from the central Syntagma Square, an August census by retail lobby group ESEE found 31 percent of shops had closed.

That was up 13 percent from August 2010, just months after the government secured the first of two multi-billion euro international rescue packages.

The austerity measures and violent street protests against tax rises and salary cuts have cast a shadow over small businesses in the city, with demonstrations alone costing them about four working hours a day, trade bodies have said.

"There are no signs that this percentage will fall and this is very worrying," said ESEE head Vassilis Korkidis, estimating that about 63,000 Greek businesses were at risk of closing down within the next year.

He said 68,000 businesses in Greece had pulled down their shutters since the beginning of 2011, with most closures driven by high rents and a fall in the purchasing power of consumers due to wage and pension cuts.

"It will be a very difficult winter - perhaps the toughest in the last three years," Korkidis told Reuters. "Many businesses will not make it."

While business has slowed across the city, it is less evident in the wealthier suburbs where two of the capital's biggest malls, home to many foreign designer brands, still attract shoppers. The study by ESEE also cited a difficulty getting funding from banks as one of the main reasons behind the closures.

The number of shuttered shops on the capital's busiest commercial streets, Panepistimiou and Stadiou, also hit a record high in August, reaching 34.7 percent on Panepistimiou and 42 percent on Akadimias, up 14 percent in the last six months. (C ) Reuters