Tucked away behind the Panathenaic Stadium, better known by locals as the Marble Stadium or Kallimarmaro, Agiokeri is a tiny shop along the main road of Pangrati that specializes in religious art.
“I’m doing something that nobody else is doing in this kind of job,” said owner and hagiographer Panagiotis Markopoulos.
Sitting beneath a four-story apartment complex, the tiny shop is lined with artwork from wall to wall. Trays of neatly displayed silver necklaces, bracelets and prayer beads fill the shelves and candlesticks of all sizes are scattered throughout the space. A large, light oak easel splattered with paint stands in the back corner, where paintbrushes, empty water bottles and metal tools cover the scuffed surface of the wooden table.
Markopoulous opened Agiokeri in the northern suburb of Neo Ionia in 1999. Ten years later, he relocated his storefront to Pangrati, across from the Agios Spyridon Church, during the peak of the country’s crisis. But the move didn’t promise greater work opportunities, since the shaded storefront receives little foot traffic from locals or tourists meandering through the suburb. Instead, Markopoulos relies on orders from nearby churches, monasteries and chapels.
He faces an even greater problem that affects other small business owners throughout Greece. In order to increase government revenues, Greek officials imposed massive tax hikes that limited profit margins for micro enterprises such as Agiokeri. This meant tax hikes of 10 percent overnight.
“The only positive for me in this is that I’m doing my job with my hands so that gives me something to make the profits bigger than to just order something and sell it,” said Markopoulos. “But the taxes for someone who has or wants a store right now are huge at this time. I believe that that is the main problem.”
Despite tapping into this niche market, Markopoulous is not immune to business losses, and during the nation’s worst economic state, he suffered a 50 percent profit loss that affected him and his family. Reflecting back on the ups and downs of the Greek economy in the past 10 years, Markopoulos remains firm in his belief that the European Union holds the keys to a renewed economy in Greece.
“When the crisis started, everyone said we can pass it,” said Markopoulos. “As we can see, it is outside our limits. There are other countries inside the European community who affect all these things.”
Massive tax hikes coupled with the slow government response has created a state of emergency for Greeks, particularly small business owners who wonder if they will be open next week. But Markopoulous finds comfort in his line of work that’s so deeply rooted in religion, symbolic of how God is watching over him.
“This happens worldwide so I have nothing to fear,” said Markopoulos. “I’m doing my job and I’m doing it as well as I can. I have faith that this kind of job will keep me here.”
Click through the gallery below to see photographs of Agiokeri.