Retailers open, but fret about future

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As retail stores opened their doors to customers again on Monday, after nearly two-and-a-half months, about a third are fretting that a third lockdown could prove fatal.

Retailers have already lost a week from the winter sales, which are set to last until February 27, and will now try to salvage what they can. But, for many, previous income losses and accumulated debts could mean that shutting their business is preferable to continuing with its operation.

Last Wednesday, Spyros Kafounis, president of the Athens Traders’ Association, said that if retail doesn’t operate smoothly from now on, and if there are no more government support measures, including debt forgiveness, at least for those who were paying their debts regularly before the pandemic, one in two shops could be forced to shut permanently.

A recent Athens Chamber of Commerce survey found that 23% of enterprises, including 34% of retailers and 41.7% in the catering sector (bars, cafés, restaurants), were considering not opening for business after the end of the lockdown.

So far, there haven’t been any mass closures of shops. This is due to government support measures such as the return of pre-paid tax, the mandated reduction – and even forgiveness – of rents, and the suspension of employee contracts, but many shop owners feel that the measures are no more than palliatives and talk of feeling like they’re on “mechanical support.”

Even after the shops open, the number of customers they can let in is limited. And while many people who were lucky enough to continue working during the lockdown have accumulated savings, others, whose businesses closed or operated at well below capacity, have suffered a drastic drop in income and may not even bother shopping, or only spend very little.

According to the latest data by the independent Statistics Authority, the retail sector’s earnings for the first nine months of 2020 were €34.77 billion, compared to €37.79 billion in 2019, a drop of 8.09%. In 2020, the country also had the first lockdown from March to May. But if one excludes supermarkets, which were kept open throughout, the drop is 17.63%.

According to retail store receipts, income continued to drop in the fall and, during the 2020-21 holiday period, estimated sales were €1.3 billion, down from €3.5 billion in 2019-20.

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