Athens Economy Recedes to Alcohol

Donned in green shirts, suspenders, bow ties, and leprechaun hats, crowds of partiers swarmed the streets of Athens Tuesday night to celebrate an Irish holiday and give downtown the needed economic influx.

Not only did celebrators around the United States find St. Patrick’s Day an excuse to drown themselves in beer but apparently the economic crisis is reason enough also.

As the hotels, Classic Center, and other downtown businesses in the hospitality industry in Athens spiral with the current national economic recession, bars tend to blossom.

Athens’ downtown has 1,115 hotel rooms, over 55 restaurants, over 20 coffee shops, and all within an award-winning entertainment district. This connection makes downtown Athens vulnerable to the domino effect. One’s losses are another’s losses too.

According to the Athens Banner Herald, hotels are suffering from the economic blow. Bookings for conventions in hotels are stagnate but for individual bookings are down. In general bookings for hotels in downtown Athens are down by eight percent since fall 2008.

The Classic Center has had a successful 14 years of existence since a public skeptical acceptance and has even managed to rid itself of a $250,000 annual city stipend, making it independent of public funds.

“There has been a shift from them asking, ‘How are you doing?’ and, ‘Are you making money?’ to, “What’s coming next on events?’” said Maureen Baker, Classic Center’s sales director. “The Classic Center was meant to be a cultural, social, and civic center for Athens, meant to maximize an economic impact by bringing outsiders or visitors to Athens,”

However, after almost a decade and a half of growth the Classic Center’s revenues have buckled with the rest of the economy.

This crunch has led the Classic Center to lay off some part-time employment and has discontinued new positions, adding to the present job crisis. It has even had to make a six percent pay cut for all employees and a 10 percent pay cut for its Executive Director, Paul Cramer, according to Blake Aeud’s article in the Athens Banner Herald, “Athens Tourism Hit but not Fatally.”

The Classic Center’s success is measured in “the level of revitalization of downtown. We want downtown to grow with us,” said Baker. “We need [other downtown businesses] and they need us. There have been many instances when our venues, restaurants, and other music venues are all full at the same time. Seeing downtown alive is very rewarding to us.”

Amidst this global bearing down of markets, alcohol sales bull up.

As the recession oozes deeper into the economy, going from shrinking stocks to a swelling tumor of unemployment, alcohol sales benefit. Many other consumer goods are struggling as the consumer crisis stifles wallets, nonetheless alcohol stands firm. But why is this so?
“People are drinking more, because people tend to drink more during tough times,” said JP Morgan beverage analyst John Faucher in a Reuters report. Industry figures confirm this statement by proving alcohol sales have gradually increased in the past few months.
A small sample of bars taken from the downtown area shows that Athens is following the national trend of spiked alcohol revenues during a recession. The Downtown Athens’ website lists 56 bars in downtown Athens! Well, supply must meet demand. Three bar managers- from Max Canada, The Loft, and Trapeze- have reported a boost.
“This lifestyle is so ingrained in Athens that I think it will be one of the last things to go,” said Patrick Ennis, Assistant Manager of Trapeze. “People do not want to give up luxury and this is a cheap form of luxury.”


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