By and and  on December 12, 2008

ATHENS — It should have been party time on downtown Voukourestiou Street on Wednesday, where Prada was scheduled to inaugurate a six-floor flagship and boost a local morale dragged low by the international financial downturn.

Instead of cocktails, however, the day marked the fourth day of fierce rioting — and in many cases, looting — which followed the death of 15-year-old Alexis Grigoropoulos by police fire in the area of Exarcheia on Dec. 6.

As downtown Athens was in flames, some retailers had managed to act swiftly. Ahead of the rioting, the Attica department store took the necessary measures and saw just a few windows broken. Metal shutters also prevented damage at Dior, Louis Vuitton and Hermès.

However, others were less fortunate: Tod’s and Ralph Lauren had broken windows and were looted. Other stores targeted and damaged included Marina Rinaldi, Nine West, Geox and Zara.

H&M was also hit. “Two of our stores and our support office in Athens have been damaged. Luckily no one has been injured,” said an H&M spokeswoman. “The stores are closed and we don’t know the amount of the damage since we don’t have access to the area. We have set up a crisis team and we have been in contact with all our 70 employees in Greece. All our other seven stores in Greece are open as usual and we are monitoring the development closely.”

In the highly commercial area of Kolonaki, broken glass was to be found all along Skoufa Street, where stores like luxury multibrand Luisa — home to names such as Alexander McQueen and Missoni — had smashed windows, though some, like new arrival Manolo Blahnik, were spared.

Last weekend Oscar de la Renta closed its freestanding store in Kifissia, an area a few miles outside of central Athens, but it has since reopened. Merchandise was removed from the two-story boutique’s first floor and display windows were covered, according to Alex Bolen, chief executive officer. “We’ve had no direct impact on our store other than traffic,” he said.

The company is assessing the situation on a day-by-day basis. Bolen said, “If things turn violent, we will shut the lights off, make sure the staff is safe and take the necessary precautions.”

Through Studio Image, its partner in Greece, Oscar de la Renta is also sells handbags and shoes at the multibrand Image store in Athens’ center. “We were told that store had some windows broken and was looted but not badly in relation to other stores where everything is totally gone,” said Bolen.

Initial reports from business and commerce associations spoke of 1 billion euros, or $1.3 billion at current exchange, in damage, a figure that included locations in Athens and Thessaloniki, where heavy rioting had also taken place.

By Thursday, the Athens Chamber of Commerce and Industry had registered some 435 businesses with major to minor damage, 37 of which have been destroyed. Sporadic rioting continued throughout Thursday around the city, with very few stores open for business downtown.

Meanwhile, Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis has pledged financial support to those hit by rioting, including lump sum payments of 10,000 euros, or $13,000, to small businesses.

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