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"My great-grandfather was traveling from Crete and because of the rough sea, the ship stopped at Maleas Cape of South Peloponnese. He lived a big adventure that he used to talk about all the in the following years, he used to talk about it so often that we gave him the nickname Maleas. That is why I am also called Maleas".
Costas Kanakis, along with his wife Popi, nee Rousali, own the oldest Greek shop, situated in the main street of Leonidio. "The first license was issued in 1874 under the name of Cosmas Rousalis, but the shop existed two generations before that under different ownership. Based on family data we believe that the shop operated for the first time before the revolution of 1821".
Only Costas and his wife know where everything is in the shop. There are so many goods inside, that the shop looks like a labyrinthine. No one can find what he or she wants on their own, they wouldn't have been able to even if they had a map. Everything you can imagine is sold there; novelties, clothes, mattresses, even traditional costumes.
"We make the uniforms ourselves, using the old SINGER sewing machine. Fabric quality and the harmony of colors are very important to us. Back in the day, we used to sell shirts of great quality packed in wooden boxes. We also sold coffee brought by ship from Brazil to Leonidio. Unfortunately, nowadays, all our old suppliers have passed away".
In some corners of the shop, apart from the merchandise, there are also some documents that prove the Tsakonian origin of Leonidio. "We named our local football team Leonidas, but unfortunately, the local authorities took the name away from us. They gave it to Sparta and they 'baptized' us the Athletic Club of Leonidio. Whatever".
Costas is making a grimace and a derogatory gesture when he tells me the name given to his favorite team. "We fought with the Spartans for the name Leonidas, like the Skopjans did with the Greeks for the name Macedonia. Only they are not Macedonians while the Tsakonians are more genuinely from Laconia".
Enlivens the past
Costas Kanakis lives with his family in the apartment above the shop. It is an excellent neoclassical building. Its crest, dated 1864, and monogrammed by the Rousalis family has been decorating the building since the store opened during the 19th century. 93-year-old Eftychia Rousali, Popi's aunt and the oldest descendant of the store's owners lives in the same house.
"Yes my child, this is the oldest shop. We lost our father very early in life and our mother, who had ten children, worked here all alone. She was well respected by the merchants and was never indebted. If I went to Patras or Syros to order goods for the shop, holding her picture, the people would fall over one another in order to help me. She was an honest and energetic woman. We respected her without her needing to yell at us. All of us finished high school and learned to speak French".
Aunt Eftychia speaks French fluently and when she was young they used to call her Félicité. Since she was born, the world has dramatically changed, except the shop and her house that have stayed the same. I wonder how many more years this shop is going to live in the past. Until when is Félicité going to charm everyone with her memories and until when are Costas with Popi going to sew national costumes using high-quality fabrics and harmoniously chosen colors?
TEXT-PHOTOS: GEORGE ZAFEIROPOULOS