Feature: Thinking differently is way to cope with Greek financial crisis

Source: Xinhua| 2018-08-07 19:42:52|Editor: Shi Yinglun
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By Kostas Zaligkas

ATHENS, Aug. 7 (Xinhua) -- As Greece prepares later this month to leave behind the bailout programs and the cycle of eight-year harsh austerity which helped the country avoid default, Greeks count the wounds and the lessons learnt.

For many, thinking differently has been proved an effective way to cope with wage cuts and still high unemployment rates that have brought much of the population below the limits of poverty.

According to the Hellenic Statistic Agency (ELSTAT) latest figures at the end of 2017, the unemployment rate in Greece was 21.5 percent of the active population, from 23.6 percent by the end of 2016. In the euro zone it was 9.1 percent from 10 percent in 2016.

As for youth unemployment, Greece is far higher than the EU average. At the end of last year it was 43.6 percent from 47.3 percent in 2016, while in the eurozone it fell to 18.8 percent from 20.9 percent in 2016.

The answer to the specter of unemployment and pay cuts was change of direction and thinking differently for 50-year-old George Kanellopoulos from Athens.

Kanellopoulos has worked as a journalist for 27 years, but when he saw that wages shrank and the profession devalued, he decided to change course and open his own store for the first time in his life.

"The crisis was not an opportunity as some say. But it got us out of our comfort zone and made us think differently," he told Xinhua in a recent interview.

Last year he stopped working as a journalist and followed his passion for music by opening a small record shop in Exarchia district in central Athens.

Old School Records is a place where music lovers can find at least 5,000 vinyls, mostly used. Although during the summer he is working on Paxoi Island at a friend's restaurant, Kanellopoulos told Xinhua that he is satisfied with the first year of the store and that he isn't considering returning to journalism.

"I'm not going to be rich from the vinyls, but I'm definitely in a better position financially than working as a journalist," he said.

Although he did not struggle to cover basic needs during the years of the crisis, some of his colleagues were among Greeks who queued for handouts and benefits to keep going.

According to ELSTAT's latest data, the percentage of Greeks in 2017 that could not consume basic means of subsistence such as meat and fish three times a week or could not pay rent and have adequate heating at home was 21.1 percent versus 22.4 percent in 2016. In Europe, the figure was 5.8 percent last year, the lowest of all time, and 6.6 percent in 2016.

Kanellopoulos weighed his skills and experiences when considering how he could overcome the crisis.

He had worked as a DJ in the evenings alongside journalism for several years. In this way he managed to make a collection of records that reached 2,500 copies. With these records, he started the shop and along the way he managed to enrich his collection by buying and selling in Greece and abroad.

People who come to his store range from 15 to 85 years old and many of his clients are tourists, as in Exarchia many apartments have been given to the Airbnb and live a lot of visitors.

"Thirty percent of our sales are to tourists who are very interested in Greek versions of various vinyls. We also do many overseas sales. I have a lot of orders for example from Australia asking for cassettes by Greek singers," Kanellopoulos told Xinhua.

He took the risk of opening his own business in times when many shops close one after another due to low consumption, heavy taxes or lack of innovative thinking, according to experts.

According to the latest figures from the Institute of Commerce and Services of the Hellenic Confederation of Commerce and Entrepreneurship, the shut down stores in Athens reached 24.9 percent in March this year. The corresponding percentage of shut down business spaces in September 2013 in Athens was 32.3 percent.

In order to avoid the padlock, Kanellopoulos thought carefully about his project.

Unlike residential rents in the district that are high, business rentals remain low in Exarchia. Many business spaces are empty and the reason is not the fear of clashes between anarchists and the police that often occur in the area.

"My store is located in an area that is forbidden to run a restaurant or a coffee shop and because Greeks usually invest in food, coffee and alcohol these last years, they end up to other neighborhoods to start their business.

"Unfortunately there is this one-sided logic and so many business spaces in Exarchia and nearby Neapolis remain empty. It is difficult to think a little different," said Kanellopoulos.