Greek Shop Owners Resist Opening On Sundays

The Greek government is pushing stores to open on Sundays, just like the tourist shops around the Acropolis. But mom-and-pop shops that are participating in a pilot program to open seven Sundays a year, say they lost money last weekend — the first Sunday the program was effect.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

Sunday is traditionally a day for rest and family in most of Europe, including Greece, but now the government there wants to introduce Sunday shopping as a way to revive the economy.

As Joanna Kakissis tells us from Athens, economics, not tradition, has many shop owners in Greece saying: Never on Sunday.

GIORGOS SOTIRIOU: (Foreign language spoken)

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Giorgos Sotiriou's family has run an embroidery shop in the port city of Piraeus since 1945. These days, he also sells luggage and camping equipment - anything to keep sales up. So when Sotiriou heard about the government's pilot program for shops to open seven Sundays a year, he signed up.

SOTIRIOU: (Foreign language spoken)

KAKISSIS: But on his first Sunday, last weekend, he didn't break even.

SOTIRIOU: On Sunday, I came on my own. We have three people as employees but I came on my own.

KAKISSIS: Because you can't afford to pay them?

SOTIRIOU: Exactly. Because the Sunday working is 75 percent more on the wages, plus one day off.

KAKISSIS: Like most businesses in Greece, Sotiriou has been struggling to pay his bills since the country's economy began sinking into deep depression in 2008. Since then, it's been impossible to get credit. And taxes are as high as 50 percent.

Sotiriou says the choice is often between paying your bills and feeding your family.

SOTIRIOU: If this condition continues at least one year more, I'm not so sure I can be here.

KAKISSIS: Just 32 percent of shops participated in the pilot program.

According to the Confederation of Hellenic Commerce president, Vassilis Korkidis, Sunday openings could help shopping malls, where sometimes people spend the whole day. But family-owned shops - which are most businesses in Greece - can't afford to work Sundays unless they can attract tourists.

VASSILIS KORKIDIS: We know that this year that we had 18 million tourists that visited our country. And we should follow these consumers since the internal consumption is very low because of the crisis.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD CHATTER)

KAKISSIS: There is a place in Athens where tourists have gone for years - and where the stores are always open on Sunday.

So I'm here in the Monastiraki district in central Athens, just below the Acropolis. And it is packed today. So there are lots of potential shoppers. Now let's see if any of them are actually shopping.

ANTONIS LIONTAKIS: My name is Antonis Liontakis, our shop is Kosmima.

KAKISSIS: Liontakis' jewelry store has been open since 1997. And like Giorgos Sotiriou in Piraeus, he's had a terrible year.

LIONTAKIS: After the crisis, it doesn't matter if it is a Sunday or Saturday or Monday or whatever, yes?

KAKISSIS: I see a lot of people out here today. Have you had a lot of customers?

LIONTAKIS: No.

KAKISSIS: How many have you had?

LIONTAKIS: One.

KAKISSIS: And, yes, he was a tourist.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHURCH BELLS RINGING)

KAKISSIS: The Greek Orthodox Church opposes the Sunday openings. The clergy would rather see people attend services instead of go shopping. As church bells ring on a Friday in Piraeus, Nikos Frantzis is buying a birthday scarf for his mom at Sotiriou's shop.

NIKOS FRANTZIS: (Foreign language spoken)

KAKISSIS: You know, he says, if we ever have an economic recovery, and people have even a little bit of money again, I don't care if the stores are open 24 hours a day.

For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis in Athens.

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