In photos: The disappearance of Greece’s family businesses
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Thousands of Greek businesses, especially the country’s many small, family-owned operations, have closed as the economic crisis tightens its grip. Faced with plunging profits and skyrocketing taxes, many families have been forced to close their businesses, leaving behind boarded up doors and dusty, empty window displays. This sad sight haunted photographer Georgios Makkas, who began to document the phenomenon.
Since 2009, Greece has been suffering from an unprecedented economic crisis. A few figures are enough to illustrate the depth of the crisis: Greece’s GDP has plunged by 25%, its debt is equal to 180% of its GDP, 25% of Greeks are unemployed and half of the unemployed are young people. At the end of June, Greece defaulted for the first time on its debt repayment. The Greek people rejected through a referendum an initial agreement between the country and its creditors (the European Union, the IMF and the Central European Bank), but a deal was finally sealed on July 13.
Another consequence of the Greek crisis is that “spending has dropped by 70%", according to Vassilis Korkidis, the president of the National Confederation of Hellenic Commerce. All of these factors have led to the closure of more and more small, family-owned businesses. Many of them are "mom & pop" shops that sell a little bit of everything and have been passed down from generation to generation.
Photographer Georgios Makkas decided to take photos of disappearing businesses in Athens, Thessaloniki, and Ioannina, which is in northern Greece, one of the regions most affected by the crisis. Makkas compiled these photos in a project he calls "The Archaeology of Now". Published on his website and his Instagram account, these photos testify to the devastation of the Greek debt crisis.
Boarded-up front doors of family businesses that have fallen victim to the debt crisis. All photos by Georgios Makkas.
“Owning one’s own business was like the realisation of the ‘Greek dream’”
Last September, I resolved to leave Greece for London, because the crisis meant that I could no longer make a living as a photographer. I decided to do this series of photos as I way to remember the country that I was leaving.
In Greece, there were many, many small, family businesses: grocers, clothing stores, and tiny shops that sold a little bit of everything. This sector developed after the Second World War when many Greeks bought small stores, often located on the ground floor of their buildings. Owning one’s own business was like the realisation of the “Greek dream”. Many of these shops have been handed down through three generations. But in the past five years, they have been shutting their doors, one after another. If you walk down the streets of Athens or Thessaloniki, you’ll find that every fourth or fifth shop is boarded up.
I decided to name this series of photographs "The Archaeology of Now" because Greece is famous the world over for its many historical ruins, which were once witness to a long-gone era. These shops have also become symbols of a bygone era, because they will unlikely reopen. The best we can hope for is that they’ll be replaced by international chain stores or fast food joints.
"Having an employee these days is ruinous"
I wasn’t able to meet the owners of these businesses since they were closed. But it isn’t hard to imagine the kind of working conditions that they must have endured since the crisis began. Taxes have skyrocketed and Greek citizens are also being required to pay more and more to social security. Having an employee these days is ruinous because you have to pay 70% to the state alongside his or her salary.
It is hard for these business owners to change sectors and find new jobs. The unemployment rate is currently so high that there are few options. The tourism industry is one of the few sectors where you can still find employment. If you are willing to go live on one of the Greek islands and to work a lot during all summer, you still might be able to earn enough to live on.
I think that the agreement signed between Greece and its creditors in July hasn’t resolved the problem at all. We are still continuing the policy of austerity so history is just going to repeat itself. Greece is once again going to be forced to default on its payments. As for the idea of leaving the euro zone, I think that would make us even weaker. I just don’t understand why people aren’t willing to cancel at least some of the country’s debt.
Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Corentin Bainier (@cbainier).