By Miles Surrey
Just over four months ago there wasn’t a single specialised, self-service frozen yoghurt shop on Nicosia’s Ledra Street. Now there are six.
Every week, meanwhile, it seems as if a new cafe, bar or restaurant is opening either on Ledra Street itself or on a side street or in the nearby Phaneromeni area.
Where once the commercial focus was on selling clothes and shoes, it has shifted with almost lightning speed to food and drink.
In the process the area has become the perfect example of the traditional Cypriot business model whereby on seeing a successful venture open up, a rush of competitors promptly set up exactly the same business, often right next door.
It’s a risky strategy at the best of times and in the middle of an economic crisis even more so.
Is it even remotely possible that all these outlets can survive when so many families are struggling to afford basic necessities?
Chillbox owner Stavros Spyrou, whose frozen yoghurt shop was the first to open on Ledra Street on March 13, is aware of the dangers.
“I think one year from now some of the shops will close, so not all of them are permanent. They all came to Ledra Street because it is the most popular place for people to walk,” Spyrou told the Sunday Mail.
Within weeks of his venture opening, his competitors set up shop very close by. So far the novelty of this supposedly healthy alternative to ice-cream which customers can also choose and serve for themselves has meant the shops are doing well.
Marcos Kyriakides is the manager of the area’s brand new outlet the Coffee Beanery franchise whose premises offer both frozen yoghurt and that other, more established Cypriot favourite, a wide selection of coffees.
He concedes that it is common in Cyprus to follow a successful business by creating the same model in an attempt to obtain the same result.
“This is a common characteristic of Cypriots. Now there is a boom in popularity with coffee, so everyone wants to take advantage of the coffee boom. Because of the economic situation, coffee is a cheap way to socialise during these times,” he said.
A leisurely cup of coffee with friends may well be cheaper than going out for a full blown meal, but Cyprus is notorious for its pricey cafes with some outlets charging as much as six euros for a frappe.
And for the ever increasing number of people feeling the pinch, price will be the major factor in the success of a café.
Annita Ellinas is the supervisor of Cerutti, another new café bar which opened near Phaneromeni Church just a few weeks ago.
“Not all the cafes will be able to survive the economic climate, and only the cheapest places will last,” she said, adding that at Cerutti coffees start at two euros.
Increased competition may also affect the older, more established outlets in the area.
Kala Kathoumena, the cafe bar just around the corner from Cerutti, has long been popular with a younger, more alternative crowd.
Manager Christina Shukuroglou is surprisingly sanguine about the future, saying there were plenty of customers to go round.
“We couldn’t be the only ones here forever. Too many people would have gathered into one coffee shop,” she said.
But back in the competitive world of frozen yoghurt, Simon Ivanov the manager of Yogen Früz believes that name-brand recognition will help his cause even though his establishment was one of the last to open.
His outlet is part of a chain of frozen yoghurt shops that started off in North America in the 1980s and has become one of the largest franchisors and licensors of frozen yoghurt stores.
Yet he still acknowledges the challenges ahead.
“It is survival of the luckiest,” Ivanov said.
He added that because of the economic crisis, cafes and places like his are actually more popular because people still have the need to shop.
A coffee or a frozen yoghurt may not be the new flat screen TV you’re desperate to buy but can no longer afford, but they are still shopping therapy of sorts.
His observation seems to be accurate. Most of these new businesses are packed, particularly in the evenings. So busy in fact that a visitor might be mistaken into thinking that the economic crisis is a media-manufactured myth.
But many bottoms on many seats do not necessarily mean vast profits for busy-looking cafes.
“Nowadays, people come in and look for special offers,” said one employee who has been working at another busy cafe in old Nicosia for the past two years.
“They won’t just pick whatever item on the menu they want without glancing at the prices.”
And as in Athens, another crisis-hit city whose cafes are unexpectedly packed, customers will often make just one drink last for hours.
“There are plenty who will spend hours at the cafe to study or read, and though they might order more than one coffee they tend to choose the cheaper items,” said the employee who did not want to be named.
“We had a customer who came at 11 in the morning and left at 5pm and all she ordered was one sandwich and one cup of coffee,” added Ellinas from Cerutti. “If they enjoy it, we can’t say anything.”
Customers themselves are quick to point out how picky they have become.
“I compare prices and I go to cafes less often because you have to pay for parking and coffee, that’s at least five euros. With the crisis, that’s a lot,” said Katia Petrou, a 56-year-old housewife.
“And now I will only have one coffee. Just one,” she added.
“I stick to a budget,” said a 30-year-old woman who did not wish to be named. “I recently got a pay cut so now it’s one coffee per session. I can’t afford a second one anymore.”
Pambos Georgiou, 43, said he’s stopped going to the more expensive cafes and bars like he used to.
“I look at prices and if I think [a place] is expensive I don’t go back,” he said adding that he’s noticed some places have dropped their prices.