Athens Portraits [10]: Pavement Entrepreneurs

more than a year ago
Got an appetite for a luxury brand, but the finances of a strapped-for-cash student? Fear not. In the streets of Athens you can satisfy your need for look-at-me labels at a fraction of the price you’d pay in the stores. And although the city is no multi-cultural metropolis like London or Paris, the past decade has seen more and more African émigrés setting up shop on the city’s pavements.
Just walk out of any train station, and you’ll find what looks like a small African village spread out in front of you, full of smiling ebony faces imploring you to check out their wares.
Whatever you want, you’ll find it in the array of fakes spread out on blankets like a shopper’s smorgasbord. Take your pick: must-have handbags (“Gucci or Louis Vuitton, Madam?”); super-cool shades (Raybans rule); designer belts, socks, tops, shawls (“Very nice, very cheap”); and even those Calvin Klein boxer shorts you need to make your street-cred almost skin-deep.
OK, so there’s no guarantee or returns policy, and the clasp on your to-die-for bag might start to tarnish after a couple of weeks. But those smiling Africans can sell you a Big Name at a little price. And if you’re willing (and able) to haggle with the pros, that price can be very little indeed.

But be warned - the goods you’ll get are far from legal, and they’re virtually guaranteed to be quality-free. And if you have a complaint… well, let the buyer beware.
Nor will you endear yourself with legitimate traders who lose out business to the pavement entrepreneurs that are here today, gone tomorrow.
A disappearing act is key to their survival, so be prepared to have your transaction or good-natured haggling cut short if there’s a whiff of a police raid in the air.
Though a blind eye is often turned, occasionally the authorities take a hard line and descend on these impromptu street markets. When that happens, woe betide anyone caught red-handed. After all, many of the peddlers could face more than a rap on the knuckles for illegal trading, especially if they lack the papers to prove they’re in the country legally.
News of raids spread like wildfire. With a blink of an eye, a square-full of street traders morphs into a flurry of frantic blanket-gathering and packing of giant hold-alls - and before you know it your Nigerian friend with the dirt-cheap Chanel has gone. Then who will you complain to about that broken strap?


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