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Attika Department Store

Attika Department StoreLet me try to tell this story of Andrea's experience at Attika, the biggest department store in Athens. I have heard it enough times because every time we go out to dinner she tells it, and it is a story worth telling.

Attika is an enormous store that takes up an entire city block between Stadiou Street and Panapistimiou Street, within sight of Syntagma Square. It is in the old Tameion Building which I remember as a kid because it had these elevators that never stopped, they just passed by each floor slow enough for people to get on or get off. Kind of scary to a kid, sort of like when you are on the swing and wonder if you can ever go high enough to go all the way over the bar. What happens when you reach the top of those elevators? I don't know. I never went to the top floor. In fact I don't know what I was even doing in that building. As high school kids we were convinced it was CIA headquarters or some kind of spy place because when you asked one of your friends what his Dad did they would say "He works in the Tameion Building" as if that explained everything. What does he do? "I don't know. He works in the Tameion Building." Who does he work for? "I don't know. I just know he works in the Tameion Building." Of course that does not mean he worked for the CIA or any secret organization. He could have worked at the Stars and Stripes Newstand because there was one in the Tameion Building. I think it is safe to say that the building housed many offices of the US Government and probably other offices too because anyone could go into the Stars and Stripes and buy a paper, and my father would go there and he was not in the CIA or the Government. But I remember when I was 9 years old, my first day in Athens, and I got lost in Monastiraki. Completely lost. I had my brother David with me and suddenly realized that my parents were nowhere in sight. We ran too and fro and finally found a policeman and by some miracle I was able to convey that my father worked in some kind of office in this big building and the police took us to the Tameion Building and sure enough my father walked in a few minutes after we arrived. It was the Fulbright Educational Foundation office.

Now it is Attika, the largest department store in Athens with eight floors of merchandise. OK I admit I have not gone in there yet and I know you will forgive me if I say that Department stores and Malls are not my thing unless it is raining and I need somewhere to walk and people watch. I would rather buy my clothes from the little shop on Athinas that caters to fat people so I can feel good about myself because I fit into the smallest size and the money is going to the little old man who owns the shop. But if you imagine any department store you will get a clear picture of Attika, with all the different departments, some beholden to one brand name, others more general, with sales people, dressing rooms (not enough) and lots and lots of stuff to buy. But in Attika you can't pay for what you buy in each department. You pick out what you want, try them on, then go up to the floor where there is a cashier and wait for each department to send the clothes you have picked out which arrive and go into a pile in these cubby holes for each department along with stuff other people have picked out. It is up to you to tell the cashier which pieces are yours by pointing at them or describing them because they are behind the counter, each piece in the cubby hole of the department it came from. Two weeks ago Andrea bought some clothes at Attika, came home to try them on and they had given her the wrong clothes. So the next day she went back downtown to exchange them, came home and again they had given her the wrong clothes.

So this time she was prepared. She and Amarandi went together and Amarandi bought a bathing suit. But in Attika when you buy a bathing suit you buy the tops and the bottoms separately. That was fine with Amarandi because she wanted a small bottom and a medium top of the same bathing suit. But the salesgirl told her that she was not allowed to get the medium top. Both sizes had to be the same, even though they were sold separately. Finally Andrea managed to convince the girl that if you are buying two pieces separately, the store could not really tell you that you were not allowed to buy a different size. So after a few more stops in other departments they went up to the cashier to collect and pay for their merchandise. But the headphones and the bathing suit Amarandi had picked out were not among the items they were paying for so the cashier had to call those departments and was on the phone for half an hour to track them down until they finally showed up on the dumbwaiter. Then after they paid and were on the way out the door Andrea flashed on the bathing suit and checked the sizes. They were both medium. The salesgirl had pulled the old switcheroo. Andrea had not convinced her, she had just gotten tired of arguing about it and handled it her way. So they went back to the cashier and pleaded with the cashier to give them the sizes Amarandi had tried on but the cashier refused to budge and in the end they returned the bathing suit right there because there is a rule that if you leave the store with the merchandise and go home, you can't return sale items for money, you have to take credit and it takes them ten minutes to fill out all the forms (by hand of course) and it is only good for six months.

OK there is more to the story, I know I am leaving something out but I only wanted to tell you this story to make my point. The idea of a department store is that you have everything under one roof, in different departments, each its own little shop in a way. You go to the sock department and you pick out your socks and you pay for them. You go to the dress department and buy a dress and pay for it. But in Attika in the old Tameion Building you pick out what you want and it is sent or taken by the salesperson to a tameion (cashier) and hopefully when you get home and try on the clothes again they will be the ones you picked out and you won't have to go back to return them. But why would a large department store have such a ridiculous system that inconveniences the customer who is shopping there because it is supposedly convenient? The reason is that if you have all the money going to all the different departments you are giving more opportunities for more employees to steal it. If you just have a few cashiers then they are the only ones handling money. Even banks did this up until recently. Maybe some still do. On the other hand if you go to a real European department store like Spanish owned Zara, each department has a cashier and it really is convenient to shop there. Attika is Greek-owned. They inconvenience the customer because they don't trust their own employees with money.

But really... why would you go to a big department store when there are still small individually owned clothing stores? Why would you spend your money with a big corporation when you could buy it from the little old man down the street who has been selling clothes for decades and is barely getting by because these department stores and malls have taken so many of his customers. It's not just a question of convenience, it is a question of values too. The only thing a department store has to offer is convenience. If it is not convenient it has no value. And if you shop in a big department store, or Wallmart, or any of the corporate stores that fill the malls of Greece or your own country instead of the small individually owned shops which are dying out, then you should question your values as well.

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