Shopkeepers shutter shops as Greek crisis bites

Thu Sep 22, 2011 11:49am EDT
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By Karolina Tagaris

ATHENS (Reuters) - His gaze fixed on the ground, an Athens jeweler harks back to the good old days, when the city flourished and people always wanted his handbeaten gold rings and ornate necklaces.

"Today no one came," said Themis Lizardos, 44. "This is true every day." Another shop in the now partly derelict building has been boarded shut.

Generations of merchants set up successful businesses in the "commercial triangle" of Athens, a stone's throw from the central Syntagma Square where bloody anti-austerity protests erupted just over two months ago.

Now the mood among shopkeepers in the once vibrant area, enclosed by the capital's three main squares, is somber.

Tens of thousands of small businesses, which make up a big chunk of the Greek economy, have closed since the government secured a 110 billion euro ($150 billion) bailout package from international lenders in exchange for promises of painful austerity measures.

"There is no helping hand (from the government), there is only one hand, the one that presses on our heads and pushes us further to the ground," Lizardos said.

The walls of his shop are full of photographs from a time when staff worked into the night to keep up with demand for gold jewelry from Greeks, who have treasured it as part of their culture for centuries.

A gracious thank-you note accompanies one of worldwide Orthodox church leader Patriarch Bartholomew, an intricate gold pendant around his neck.   Continued...

<p>A man walks in front of a row of closed shops in central Athens June 24, 2011. REUTERS/John Kolesidis</p>