Istanbul’s flea markets meet past and present

Istanbul’s flea markets meet past and present

ISTANBUL – Anadolu Agency
Istanbul’s flea markets meet past and present

A woman choosing handmade ceramic crockery at open-air market in Istanbul in this file photo. The frequenters of the flea markets of Istanbul say: ‘You never know what you will find at a flea market from one week to the next.’

Browsing, exploring, rummaging, bargaining and buying – flea markets have been supplying the haves and have-nots of Istanbul for hundreds of years.

But beyond the exotic image of easy bargains for tourists, one leading economist has described how these unofficial institutions generate millions of Turkish Liras every year, providing a real lifeline for Istanbul’s low-income earners and vendors alike.

These markets also fuel entrepreneurship and provide ways to revive small businesses, according to one expert.

Economist Serhat Karamürsel told Anadolu Agency that in order to save money, people have again started to see more value in shopping for discounted and second-hand products, as opposed to luxury or brand-new items.

Stating that flea markets have been worldwide businesses for hundreds of years, Karamürsel said: “Small or large, it does not matter; the flea markets contribute to the local economy in significant ways, maybe by millions of liras every year.”

“Besides money saved, flea markets also offer a way to revive small business, reducing start-up costs and increasing entrepreneurship,” he added.

“Flea markets are good breeding grounds for those who want to go into business.”

Usually, an outdoor bazaar where vendors sell all kinds of second-hand items, these flea markets have also become a paradise for bargain hunters, collectors, hipsters and the nostalgic.

Kenan Seven, a veteran vendor from Kadıköy, said: “The flea markets in Istanbul date back to old times. In the good old days, when something was broken it didn’t go to waste, it was repaired and utilized instead.”

An old-hand at the trade, Seven has been working as a flea market dealer since the 1960s, like his father before him. “I was born into this second-hand world, my family is one of the most experienced junk market dealers in Istanbul,” he said with pride.

You never know what you will find at a flea market from one week to the next. “It is a haven of variety. You can find some mechanical things, like wrenches or hammers; some technological stuff like computers, CDs, mobile phones or a television remote; or stuffed animals, porcelain mugs or old comic books,” he said.      

“But the best thing is that you always find something that belongs to past. A photograph of a happy couple, who you have never met and never will, as they are already dead. Maybe some documents such as a sale contract or a marriage certificate. Flea markets are the place between today and yesterday.”

Istanbul is home to many iconic markets in less-than-glamorous locations. The Dolapdere market is one such bazaar located behind a petrol station and an offal restaurant; the Feriköy market offers the city’s most original and old furniture and antiques. Both Dolapdere and Feriköy open at around 6:00 am on Sundays and shopping generally continues into the afternoon.

Mert Bahtiyar, a 26-year-old university student from Istanbul, is just one of the frequenters of the city’s flea markets.

Stating that he has been a loyal customer of the flea markets in Feriköy and Dolapdere for many years, Bahtiyar said: “I and my father always looked forward to Sundays. He used to wake me up in the early hours of Sunday and we just set off with a lot of coins in our pocket and a long list in our mind.”
Bahtiyar said the flea markets have some distinctive rules, both for the customers and vendors.

“Seizing a place in flea markets early in the morning is certainly the best idea because the most unique and precious finds are sold by the afternoon. Each flea market, no matter how simple or small, has the potential for treasure in it,” he added.

“You know the world market is full of Chinese-made products. It is getting harder to find quality on the cheap. There is no point hiding it. If we are strapped, we want to save money on our goods, so the flea markets are best places to save money,” he added.

Besides the cultural richness, flea markets make an economic contribution. Minimum-wage earners like African and Asian immigrants, plus refugees, the homeless and the unemployed both buy and sell in these markets to meet their needs.

Karamürsel said small businesses, such as artisans and craftsmen selling homemade or second-hand goods, have the advantage of being mobile in order to make profit without the extra expenses of a commercial lease or taxes.

“But there are some rules and regulations that must to be followed, even by movable businesses, like flea market vendors; they must pay taxes or else it will be evasion,” Karamürsel added.

However, vendors strongly react against the tax issue. A 45-year-old vendor, identifying himself as Cihan S. from the Feriköy flea market said: “Flea markets are mostly cash businesses. Many people wonder about how the sellers here are not paying taxes. But we are just selling to survive, not to get rich,” he added.

Cihan said: “I think that makes the difference between making a little money and making a lot of money in this job. I am not stealing, just working round the clock to find something to sell.”

However, Cihan warned about the pocket thieves in the market. “You should keep your eyes open. Be watchful of your wallet. As in any big city, crowded markets and bazaars are great places for purse snatchers and the flea markets are no exception.”

Despite the long debate on tax issues, the reliability of the markets’ goods or how prices change from season to season or week to week, Istanbul’s flea markets of 2014 seem to be the city’s most vivacious shopping haunts – just as they were in centuries past.