Cafes and bakeries line the streets of Pangrati, a residential municipality within the City of Athens, where family-run businesses like Kékko’s Cáfe compete with its neighbors for business.
“In all these years of the economic crisis, there are too many coffee shops, pastries and bakeries open,” said owner Katarina Kekkou. “This is a problem because you have to choose as a customer between a lot of cafes to go to.”
When the family decided to go into business in 1995, it only seemed natural to open a bakery given Kekkou’s father’s prior work experience as a baker in a pastry shop. Early on, the biggest problem the family faced was the occasional theft of a loaf of bread. The bailout crisis of 2009, however, meant bigger problems for a family facing severe financial instability and uncertainty. The people of Greece are plagued by harsh economic conditions that have been imposed by international lenders since 2010. Pensions and salaries for public and private workers have been dramatically slashes, and small business taxes have increased to nearly 30 percent. Budgetary austerity not only slashed bonuses, pensions and salaries of public and private workers, but it also raised the small business tax to 29 percent. After factoring in additional taxes such as social security, the net income of a small business owner is roughly a quarter of their annual income.
“I don’t think that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I can’t think of what is going on and how we will be in two or three years,” said Kekkou. “We’re not even sure if we are open next year.”
The financial crisis changed not only the way Kekkou and her family live their lives, but also how they operate their business. With a reduced salary due to higher taxes, the family has significantly less money to spend while prices continue to soar, which means extra purchases at the grocery store can put a dent in their monthly budget. According to a 2016 study conducted by the Labor Institute of the General Confederation of Greek Workers, the highest trade union body in Greece, the price of basic food items in Greece increased up to 18 percent in one year.
“Our lives changed dramatically from 2007. Now it’s been years and just two years before, you could see people looking in trash bins for something to eat,” said Kekkou. “These are things I had never seen before in my life.”
Greeks, including Kekkou, believe that the blame should be shared between the government and the European Union. Through its various institutions, namely the European Investment Bank, the union provides a wide array of support to its member states in its political and economic alliance. However, in the case of the Greek crisis, the European Union has been criticized for not providing adequate support to the country.
“It’s not only the Greek government’s fault. The European Union should have thought about the best way for Greece to go on,” said Kekkou. “They do only wrong things and take the wrong step. There is no union. Why doesn’t the European Union find the best solution for everybody and not only Greek people?”
Anger runs deep in the minds and hearts of Greeks who believe that amid the crisis, they are being falsely portrayed by Europeans as thieves and lazy people who are taking advantage of money being loaned to them.
“In my family, my father and I work a lot. We pay our taxes. We don’t spend more money if we don’t have a lot,” said Kekkou. “We live a lot. But now, we don’t have enough money to pay our taxes or to pay anything. We are very stressed about it.”
Click through the gallery below to see photographs of Kékkos Cáfe.