THE Larnaca-Famagusta branch of the union of small shopkeepers, Povek, announced on Wednesday that it was opposed to the construction of a shopping mall in Larnaca because it would destroy small retail businesses in the town’s commercial centre. It therefore called on all its members to attend next week’s public hearing that will discuss the application for the construction of the mall, submitted by the Ayios Georgios Kontos monastery owner of the land, close to the GSZ stadium.
Povek had submitted an objection to the construction of a mall, when the plan was first announced, but it did not have the desired effect. “Perhaps because the mall is a project of many and big interests, all the problems arising were overcome at breakneck speed and are being led to the public hearing before the holding of presidential elections,” it said in an announcement. In other words, it is a conspiracy by big interests and the authorities designed to cause the ruin of Larnaca’s small shops.
This is the kind of language used by the reactionary economic forces. Do the authorities have an obligation to impose restrictive practices, preventing an entrepreneur making a multi-million euro investment in order to protect small retail shops? Will the state now impose restrictions on free enterprise because Povek wants people to carry on shopping in the Larnaca commercial centre? And what about the interests of the rest of the people of the Larnaca district – the overwhelming majority – that might want to do all their shopping in a place that is easy to drive to and there is ample parking?
What Povek fails to understand is that Cyprus society is not what it used to be in the 1980s. Conditions are different and consumer behaviour is constantly changing. More and more people find it more convenient to shop in malls and this is viewed as a business opportunity for entrepreneurs. This is how the market economy works. If it were up to Povek people would still be shopping at the neighbourhood grocery store and the local butcher, but these are consumer patterns of a bygone era. It is a pity neighbourhood stores have disappeared, but people obviously prefer to shop in big supermarkets. Should the government have stopped the opening of big supermarkets, in order to protect the local shop?
It might be a bit more difficult for small shops in the Larnaca commercial centre to survive, once the mall opens, but there are plenty of ways for the owners to do this. They can sell goods at more competitive prices, offer better and more friendly customer service, stock merchandise that is not available in the malls and pool resources in order to promote the area. This is how the market economy works and not through protectionism.