G8 Summit: Greektown Feeling Impact of Homeland's Economy

Christos Liakouras photo by Nadvia Davis

Christos Liakouras, owner of The Parthenon restaurant in Greektown,
discusses his family ties in Greece. (Photo by Nadvia Davis)
 

G8 Icon via iStockPhotoBy Nadvia Davis and Kristen Nemoto
The Red Line Project
@RedLineProject

Posted: Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Greektown business owners say they are feeling the shaky economies in both the U.S. and Greece as hardships from their loved ones overseas remind them of their own struggles here in Chicago.

Many are skeptical whether next months G8 summit will address solutions to both countries’ economic crises.

Sprawled over a mile near the West Side, Greektown has become an epicenter of local shops, businesses, and restaurants, many owned by Chicagoans with strong ties to Greece.

“I consider myself very lucky for being here,” said Christos Liakouras, a first-generation Greek and owner of The Parthenon, “the oldest Greek restaurant in Chicago.”

Unlike Liakouras, his one brother and two sisters were not able to migrate to the U.S. in the late 1960s due to financial constraints. Liakouras shared that him and his siblings were forced to choose between staying in Greece to take care of their parents or flee to the U.S. They had no idea Greece’s economy would decline and cause more financial turmoil.

“I have brothers and sisters in Greece who are affected,” said Liakouras, explaining his family’s hardships over the past years. “They are older than me. Retired. They [Greek government] cut their salary and their social security in half because of the problems.”

Liakouras took out a loan last year in order for The Parthenon restaurant to “get by without trouble,” which he calls a luxury for “living in America,” unlike many of his friends and family in Greece.

“[The European Union] already bailed Greece out, but they charged them so much interest that they owe more than what was they previously owed … it just doesn’t make sense.” Liakouras said, shaking his head.

Greece received its first loan from the European Union in 2010. According to BBC News, the loan was to recover much of the countries overspending since it joined the euro. Now in 2012, Greece has found itself in need of another bailout, exchanging $173 billion of its $485 billion debt for loans at a low rate of interest in order to keep it from defaulting.

“The European Union has [loaned] them so much money,” said Dr. Patricia Werhane, director of DePaul University’s Institute for Business and Professional Ethics. Werhane believes Greece’s economy has become “too dependent” on the European Union and the United States, a mistake that could enable the countries resiliency in the future.

“I know it sounds mean, but it doesn’t help to loan these countries in need with huge amounts of money.” Werhane said. “Amounts that they would not be able to pay back in time. It’s just not that simple. Greece will never be able to pay them back.”

Joe Collado, co-owner of Greektown restaurant Rodity's, said he hears a lot of his regular customers talk about their relatives in Greece.

“They can definitely feel their relatives pain,” Collado said, shaking his head. “We all do in a sense that we hear and connect stories of what’s going on over there… it’s scary.”

Yiannis Morikis, owner of Greektown Music, had to rebuild his family’s 20-year business after a fire caused damage to his entire shop in February 2010. He said he’s lucky to have been able to “start over” unlike some of his relatives in Athens.

“My cousin was a computer programmer, but he lost his job,” Morikis said. “He was able to buy his own taxi to run in Athens but, he’s been forced to strike with them if they strike ... so it’s been tough. They’ve been getting by but it’s been rough for them.”

While unsure of his store’s financial future, Morikis and his wife, whom is his “one and only other employee,” are doing “OK” in light of the United State’s dire economy.  

“Financially, it hasn’t affected us as much,” said Morikis, who has been able to relocate to a friend’s cell phone shop just two blocks down from the store’s original location. “We still import from Greece. The euro is down now and the record labels have been giving us a better discount so that has been good for us.”

Nia Tsamis is an employee of Elea Mediterranean Food Market, which is owned by her father. She said Elea’s orders of Greek produce is good for the country’s interests as well.

“All of our products are from Greece,” Tsamis said. “The exchange rate isn’t the greatest, but if anything we’re helping them by getting products from there.” 

Aware of his customer’s strong ties to Greece, Collado acknowledges Rodity’s circumstantial advances due to Greece’s hardships.

“Most of our products are imported,” Collado said. “All of our wine, many of our cheeses, some of our meat products and fish have come directly from Greece.  And with the euro down, we’ve been, I guess you can say … benefiting from their crisis.”

Joe Collado photo by Nadvia Davis

Joe Collado, co-owner of Rodity’s in Greektown. (Photo by Nadvia Davis)

Many Greektown businesses are caught between Greece and the U.S.’s economic dilemma. Werhane said it’s an unfortunate predicament they face while their home country slips into further debt.

“It helps Greektown a lot because the dollar is in their favor,” she said. “But on the other hand they’re Greek. So they can understand how they feel. It’s definitely morally debilitating.”  

The world’s economic status will be available for a greater dialogue, as leaders for the G8 summit will gather May 18-19 at Camp David to discuss the debt crisis, particularly in the European Union. Werhane said one of the top concern’s discussed in the summit will be the economic crisis in Greece and whether or not the country can sustain on it’s own without intervention from the United States or the European Union.

“Greece doesn’t have much industry,” she said. “And the G8 hasn’t gone into Greece to do any industrial development. Either they have to bail them out completely or Greece will go off the euro.”

If Greece were to “go off the euro,” the initial change will be “extremely difficult,” Werhane said. But she added that the long-term scenario might end in Greece’s overall favor.

“At least they’d feel independent,” she said. “Right now they feel enormously dependent on the European Union. And to be dependent on the European Union is to be dependent on Germany who has the least amount of debt and the most amount of money. And the G8 is going to worry about that.”

Developed in 1975, the summit originally consisted of six governments:  Japan, France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the United States thus called the Group of Six or G6. Canada joined a year later and Russia completed the organization and became the G8 in 1997. Often criticized for not having a clear “agenda,” with no official spokesperson or offices for its members, the annual G8 summits, according to Werhane, have no official “power” as a group.

“Unless they decide as a group to do something … The G8 is really an economic liaison,” she said.      

Despite the G8 summit and U.S. Presidential candidates promising an increase in job stability, Greektown business owners interviewed say they won’t hold their breath for drastic changes in both countries’ economies.

“I’m not the best at politics, but you never find an end to politics,” Liakouras said, shrugging his shoulders. “You look at it this way you look at it that way there is always a plus and minus. Nobody wins that way.”

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