Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Empty shops in Cyprus

I'm no economist, but it's pretty clear that small businesses in Cyprus are suffering.  For the past year or so, we've seen empty shops along some of the main streets, where there used to be thriving businesses. It's not unusual for shops to change hands, but in the fifteen years since we came here, this is the first time we've seen increasing numbers of former shops just standing empty.

More recently this has started happening locally, to small shops which used to serve the neighbouring houses.  On my return from a recent early morning walk I decided to photograph some of them. I saw this one:

And this one:

As I approached our favourite Achna froutaria (which is still thriving, thankfully) I also remembered this one, a former take-away food place, which has been empty for some months now:

Next door stood this: a mini-market which changed hands perhaps nine months ago, but has evidently been in its last throes for a while now, selling off random products at very cheap prices.  It's now closed down entirely:

What actually first triggered my surprise about the number of empty shops locally was seeing that the small froutaria, just a couple of streets away from us, had closed a couple of weeks ago. That was quite a shock, as it always seemed to get a fair bit of custom; I didn't use it myself, most of the time, as I like Achna so much better - but just occasionally I would pop there for something quick.

However, by the time I got around to taking a photo, someone else had taken over the building. It looks like another mini-market, although it's hard to tell:

Reports in the Cyprus Mail suggest that more and more families are now struggling to survive in Cyprus,  Some are going without electricity for weeks at a time, and relying on charitable organisations for clothing and food. Benefits/welfare are not easy to get here, and the system was undoubtedly flawed, but recent reforms have made it even more difficult for those struggling the most.  Another report stated that, as in the rest of Europe, around 16% of the population are living below the official poverty line, which is a little over €10,000 per year.  

Cyprus used to be an inexpensive, friendly place to live. Electronic and other luxury goods were expensive compared to the UK or the US, but the basic cost of living was low, and it was entirely possible to live economically on around that level, particularly for those (the majority of Cypriots) who own their own home, and are thus not paying any rent.

But electricity and other utility costs have skyrocketed, and while fruit and vegetables are still good value in season, other food and grocery items have become far more expensive, to the extent that when we visit the UK we're now surprised at how cheap everything looks - rather the reverse of the situation ten years ago.  Even petrol costs have risen, so that from being one of the cheapest in Europe, Cyprus petrol is now almost as expensive as the highly-taxed fuel in the UK. 

We hear of ex-pats, often retirees, being forced to return to their own countries as it's too expensive to live here now.  There are still wealthy tourists from Eastern Europe, and some from the UK and other Western European countries who can afford to pay the extra for guaranteed sunshine and relative safety. But it's no longer a good value holiday place, and unless something changes, it's going to spiral downhill faster and faster.

Thus ends the nearest to a political post that I'm ever likely to write... 

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