POLITICIANS, union bosses and pressure groups have always laboured under the illusion that they can impose their ideas on or at least manage the market. They think this could be done by restrictive legislation or government regulations, their objective always being to protect suppliers. In Cyprus, suppliers have always enjoyed protection through price controls, guaranteed profit margins, closed shop and other state regulations, while the interest of consumers have largely been ignored.
These restrictions have been gradually phased out, because of EU membership, but the supporters of market interference remain. Nicosia mayor Constantinos Yiorkadjis appears to have defected to this camp, publicly opposing the extension of the Mall of Cyprus, on the grounds that this would further reduce the number of people visiting the once thriving shopping areas of Makarios Avenue and Stassikratous Street in the centre of the capital.
The Mall is not within the Nicosia municipality’s boundaries, so it is strange that Yiorkadjis should be campaigning against its extension as the decision belongs to the Strovolos municipal council. Even stranger is the fact that Yiorkadjis, who contributed to the revival of Nicosia within the walls, by lifting restrictions such as the prohibitive parking space tax, which was a disincentive to the opening of bars, cafes and restaurants, would take a stand against the free operation of the market.
The run-down part of the capital within the walls has been turned into a vibrant and trendy centre, buzzing with life all hours of the day and night, because restrictions were lifted and market forces were freed. We did not hear the mayor of Engomi complaining because business was taken away from the bars and clubs of his municipality. This is what happens in a free market and Yiorjadjis should not forget that.
The once busy shopping streets of the capital will not be revived by preventing the extension of the Mall of Cyprus. If people prefer to shop in the mall because shops are close to each other, it is easier to drive to and there is no shortage of parking space, no amount of restrictive legislation will change these habits. Surely, it is up to the consumer to decide where he or she will shop and politicians should not try to lead them to the centre of town by restricting their shopping choices at the mall. This is not the way to bring back shoppers to the centre of town.
The market will eventually take care of itself – when rents fall significantly, new shops open and if they are selling products for which there is demand – and people will return to the capital’s shopping streets. Perhaps it would not be as many people as had walked these streets in the past, but our politicians have to accept that consumer habits change.