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Astoria’s Greek Firms Affected by Crisis in Greece

Import, advertising, tourism businesses see drop-off; others see opportunities
At Lefkos Pirgos, a Greek café in Astoria, most talk revolves around one topic: the financial crisis gripping the southern European country.
Patrons sit amid plates of sokolatina troufa and baba rum chatting about the crisis and its impact, both in Greece and in Astoria, home to New York City’s largest Greek population.
“The Greek financial crisis,” says owner Petros Pantazis, “is the main topic of conversation—all day, every day.”
One week after an agreement averted a financial crisis by giving Greece roughly $146 billion so that it could refinance its debt, the Greek population in Astoria—particularly the business community—is surviving with limited damage in areas such as imports, advertising and tourism. In fact, some Greek business owners are seeing opportunities.
According to the 2000 U.S. census, Queens is home to some 45,000 Greeks, many of whom reside and operate businesses in Astoria.
Krinos Foods, an importer and distributor of Greek foods, has had to adapt to disruption of supplies as a result of strikes at trucking companies and the ports as workers protested austerity measures.
“We have been affected,” says Eric Moscahlaidis, president of Krinos Foods. “We’ve accelerated and increased our orders to ensure that we have the proper raw materials.”

Homeric Tours, which has two offices in the city and organizes individual and group tours to Greece, has also seen some drop-off in business.
“We saw a very small amount of cancellations,” says owner Nikos Tsakanikas. He notes that those who did pull the plug were primarily group tours of American travelers. He adds, however, that the office in Astoria has been largely unaffected.
“They are dealing with the ethnic market,” he says. “They continue to book and continue to go with no effect whatsoever.”
Antonis Dimamtaris, the editor and publisher of the National Herald, another Greek weekly based in Queens, has also seen his advertising fall, though he envisions a potential positive for Astoria’s Greek community.
“In a weird way, this crisis that Greece is dealing with might help the community here,” he suggests. “It will keep people here and keep people coming back here from Greece.”
The silver lining for Astoria’s Greek businesses, according to John Stratakis, chairman of the Hellenic-American Chamber of Commerce, is the flow of money as people in Greece shift some of their savings to U.S. banks for safekeeping.
“You can make the argument that the effect has been somewhat positive for people here,” Mr. Stratakis says. “There has been an influx of money from Greece to New York.”

Mr. Stratakis is also a partner in law firm Poles Tublin Stratakis & Gonzalez, which devotes a large part of its practice to maritime shipping. He believes that most of the effect locally has been psychological: Relatives and friends are concerned about loved ones and compatriots back home.
“There is a feeling of commiseration with the people who are suffering in Greece,” he says.
Back at Lefkos Pirgos, the Greek café, the psychological effects can be measured in simpler ways. Whether directly impacted or not, the community is paring down.
“Someone who used to come in and order two coffees,” Mr.Pantazis says, “they now order one.”

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