Roadside kiosks are a fixture of everyday life in Greece – and a trusty source of gossip. But these charming outposts have a history that takes them beyond the fleeting concerns of the day.
Greece’s kiosks, known locally as periptera, are roughly the equivalent of a newsagents in the UK or a cornershop in the US – at least in terms of what they sell. From toys and sweets to household essentials and, of course, newspapers, these tiny roadside shops offer a little something for everyone in their respective neighbourhoods. Kiosks in the touristy centre, for instance, sell souvenir fridge magnets and postcards alongside an impressive array of international magazines. One in upmarket Kolonaki sells cigars, while another in the so-called anarchist neighbourhood of Exarcheia stocks political fanzines.
Yet in contrast to newsagents or cornershops, these kiosks have a unique history. Dating back to 1911, they were initially gifted to disabled or wounded war veterans in lieu of a pension. “My original owner had no legs when I first met him,” says Pavlos Giannopoulos, who has run a kiosk on Syntagma Square for the past 30 years. “That’s how they made a living.”
Originally miniscule in size, these tiny early kiosks sold little more than newspapers, cigarettes and sweets. Much has changed since but their role as a community hub remains the same. Greeks regularly stop by to read the front pages of the day’s papers, which are usually hung from the awning, and their owners – the peripterades – are a much-used source for gossip, news and directions. “I’ve been here so many years that I have tourists who come back to visit and say, ‘Oh, I came here in 1990-something,’” says Giannopoulos after pointing two Frenchmen towards the parliament building. “I try to help as much as I can.”