Retail shops in Athens have been hard hit by the economic crisis but especially in the city centre, where 23.4 percent of businesses had folded in the first week of March, the National Confederation of Hellenic Commerce (ESEE) revealed in a report on Thursday. The rate of business closures had risen sharply compared with six months ago, from 17 percent in August 2010.

Indicatively, one in three shops (33.8 percent) have recently closed along Stadiou Street, one of the city's smartest shopping high streets, while roughly one quarter of shops closed on nearby Akadimias (24.6 percent) and pedestrianised Ermou (24.3 percent), the city's best-known and busiest shopping street.

Local shopping districts appeared more resistant to the pressures of the crisis but here again, shop closures were high relative to previous years. The rate of business closures along Patission Street, for example, was 20.6 percent overall but in some sections of the street rose as high as 30 percent.

In suburbs like Nea Ionia and Maroussi, the rate was relatively low at 17.8 percent, while in Kifissia it climbed to 21 percent from 12 percent six months earlier and in Halandri to 22 percent.

ESEE stressed the adverse impact of such business closures, especially on levels of unemployment. In previous reports the confederation had warned that up to 100,000 jobs in the retail sector might be lost, a prediction that appeared to be borne out by a surge in unemployment figures for December to 14.8 percent.

The ESEE survey was conducted between February 25 and March 7, examining the main shopping high streets in the centre of Athens, Kolonaki, Kallithea, Maroussi, Nea Ionia, Kifissia, Halandri and Piraeus.