“Athens is Back” initiative aims to help local businesses address COVID-19 impact

A stone’s throw from the Acropolis hill in Athens, locals and tourists are strolling through a gallery looking for limited edition photography prints at a discount.

The YellowKorner at the historic center of the Greek capital is just one of the 200 local businesses participating in an initiative called “Athens is Back”, which was launched by the City of Athens in cooperation with the Athens Traders Association this summer.

The goal of the initiative is to support businesses operating in Athens which have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, its architects told Xinhua.

“The platform ‘Athensisback.gr’ has been active and open since the 16th of June. The site provides an opportunity for all businesses and cultural institutions located in Athens to engage with customers by posting offers and discounts for residents and visitors,” Evangelos Vlachos, CEO of Athens Development and Destination Management Agency, said on Friday.

“This project is implemented by the Athens Development and Destination Management Agency and will remain active for three months. If needed, it will be extended,” he explained.

The initiative is an attempt to change the bleak image of the city’s historic and commercial center after the lockdown which was in place in Greece from March 23-May 4, as it has been reflected in the latest survey carried out by the Athens Traders Association, said Stavros Kafounis, the association’s president.

“In the survey we conducted, 80 percent of respondents said that in the first 10 days of the restart of the economy they had zero revenues or chose to keep their stores closed. It is obvious how dramatic is the situation for the city’s center,” Kafounis said.

More than two months after the lockdown, tourists, although only a fraction of the flows Greece registered in previous years, have started reaching Athens, and Athenians are adjusting to the new normalcy, going out for shopping under COVID-19 safety rules.

However, Kafounis noted that Greeks seem to refrain from nonessential purchases, as many households have seen their income shrinking dramatically in recent months.

Some 56 percent of participants in another survey carried out for the Athens Chamber of Commerce and Industry in early July said that they fear a new round of austerity measures, as the country had just left behind the painful bailout era (2010-2018).

And 75 percent of respondents said they feared a new wave of “padlocks” for businesses. Approximately 250,000 businesses, mainly small and medium-sized, closed during the years of the Greek debt crisis, according to the figures released by the Hellenic Confederation of Commerce and Entrepreneurship.

“The period until the end of this year is critical for us. We believe that if we manage to overcome this difficult period, we will be able to see 2021 with optimism,” Kafounis told Xinhua.

In addition to pleas to the government for further reductions to taxes and social security contributions to help businesses stay afloat, the association took action through the “Athens is Back” initiative.

“I think that shortly all the significant businesses in the city center will join in with offers and the message ‘we are back and we are waiting for you’,” he stressed.

Panos Voyatzis, the owner of the YellowKorner gallery in the center of Athens, which is part of a network of dozens of galleries worldwide which started in France in 2006 by two French friends passionate about photography, is optimistic about the project and the overall outcome of the battle against the new challenge.

“Most of the shops and small businesses have been responding very well. We see every day more and more people coming downtown,” he told Xinhua.

“Traditionally this time of the year should have been full of tourists,” he said, also noting the increasing number of Chinese seen in the gallery since it opened in the center of Athens in late 2017.

“We hope they will come soon,” he said, referring to the Chinese tourists.

Prints of the China’s Great Wall are on display next to images of wildlife, fashion, and idyllic Greek beaches. The options are numerous.

Zurab Sam, a B2B Manager, shared with Xinhua his impression about the Chinese visitors. “They are enthusiastic and really warm people, which I was not aware of before I started working in the gallery.”

The main concept of the YellowKorner is to make art photography accessible for all, presenting artworks by internationally renowned photographers and promising talents.