By Eleni Courea and Marie Kambas
A RECENT telephone survey appeared to show that fewer Cypriots were experiencing financial difficulties this Christmas but both retailers and the man on the street told a different story nearly two years after the banking crisis.
While some of those interviewed by the Cyprus Mail think that the economic situation is slightly better, others including shopkeepers and business owners warned of darker times ahead.
Vasilis, 42, a bus driver for Nicosia bus company OSEL, said: “The 2013 financial crisis was the first of its kind in Cypriot history, and the shock still resonates. Everyone is very careful with their money now.”
Christiana, 19, a university student, agreed: “It’s clear that the crisis is far from over – all the shops are desperately advertising their discounted products,” she said.
Not everyone thought in terms of total doom and gloom but acknowledged that if people were spending more it was not much more, and it was only because a lot of things were discounted.
Margarita, 17, a school student said: “Yes, discounts have made everything cheaper, but people are spending more as a result. Makarios Avenue is being revived again, after more than two years. Ultimately, it’s part of the Cypriot culture to save up for a month or two before Christmas, so that we can buy things for those close to us.”
Stelios, a 66-year-old retiree, agreed: “People are spending more this year. Nobody trusts the banks with their money, so they’d rather buy gifts for their family and friends.”
Michalis, 63, who works at Birkenstock shoe shop said however the new year would be far worse than the last two.
People have spent all their savings now, and there is no more money coming in,” he said.
Christos Harrison, a security supervisor for hotels in Limassol, disagreed. “The economic crisis is a state of mind. People constantly tell each other, ‘there is a crisis’, and they create an atmosphere of fear. Everyone starts saving up, in case something goes awry. But ultimately, in my experience, people still spend as much as they used to – they just try to get more with their money. I spent some time working for the Jumbo toyshop in Limassol, and business was better than ever. But instead of spending their €100 on three items, people spent it on eight,” he said.
Shopkeepers and small business owners were not convinced that people were spending even a little more. Nelly Sotiriadou, a 38-year-old employee at Swatch, said: “This year is just the same as the last; people only buy what they need.”
Maria, 58, has owned a shop on Ledra Street, Ursula Gerden, for 28 years. “The situation is dire,” she said. “I’ve had very few customers this season; and those who do come in to buy things are foreigners, not Cypriots. I try to get two or three euros for each item now – it’s better than nothing.”
“Since the economic crisis, I’ve had to rely on revenue from tourism. But while there were tourists in Nicosia last Christmas, this year there are none. Things will only get worse now that Cyprus Airways is shutting down. The government is asking us to pay €2,000 in tax, and more for social services and maintenance; but where will we get this money, when we have no customers?”
Business Mail interviewed a number of shopkeepers who were pessimistic in the run-up to Christmas.
Popi Andreou who works at Skopy shoes in Nicosia said “people have started to spend money but not as it should be, people are still afraid to put their hands in their wallets”.
Anna Georgiou, who owns Green Shop which sells organic goods in Larnaca said generally business was brisk, because of the specific clientele.
“Consumers tend to look for quality in shopping. It’s not just good prices but also good customers service which is difficult to find, especially when a country is in crisis,” said Giorgos Hadjigeogiou, who works at Spectus, a specialist liquor and wine store in Limassol. “Besides it’s in our DNA to wait the last moment for our Christmas shopping,” he added.
Shopkeepers Yannis Azas and Pampos Kirou were very pessimistic, saying things were worse than last year.
Azas, who owns Miss Pop clothing store in central Nicosia said Ledra Street is not as busy as it should be.
“Ledra has been in this situation since the opening of the Checkpoints,” he said. “Cypriots prefer to give their money to a fake economy instead of their own,” he said, referring to the breakaway north.
Visitors to northern Nicosia on Sunday saw several groups of Greek Cypriots shopping, mainly for clothing items, even though customs authorities appeared to be stepping up their checks on people returning with carrier bags on the Greek Cypriot side of the checkpoint.
Pampos Kirou who owns IceBody, which sells clothing items in central Nicosia said: “It’s even worse compared to a month ago, I haven’t seen anything like it.”