Ukrainian shoppers returning to Istanbul’s Laleli

Ukrainian shoppers returning to Istanbul’s Laleli

Gamze Şener-Istanbul
Ukrainian shoppers returning to Istanbul’s Laleli

Ukrainian shoppers have started to return to Istanbul’s commercial Laleli quarter, raising hopes among local businesses.

Before the war broke out, Russians and Ukrainians would visit Turkey, particularly Istanbul and Laleli, which is one of the city’s textile products and apparel retailing centers to buy goods and bring them back to their countries in what is known as “suitcase trade.”

Russia’s share in the Laleli market is 35 percent, Ukraine’s is 20 percent. Due to the adverse effects of the war, our businesses nearly came to a complete halt for 40 to 45 days. Now Ukrainians are returning,” said Gıyasettin Eyyüpkoca, chair of the LASİAD, which represents businesses in Laleli.

Trade of businesses in Laleli declined by 10 to 20 percent compared to the pre-war level, according to Eyyüpkoca.

“Before the war, demand was strong during summer months that we could not keep up pace with the demand. Last year’s business volume in Laleli, Şişli and Merter was $3.5 billion, but before the war, it was as much as $7 billion, even sometimes hitting $16 billion, $17 billion,” he said.

Eyyüpkoca expects business volume to be around $3 billion this year.

He also noted that not only Russians and Ukrainians but also people from Bulgaria and Hungary are coming to Istanbul for shopping.

Eyyüokoca recalled that in the past, Russians’ share was 70 percent. “Before that Poland had the largest share, but visits by Polish shoppers dropped after Poland joined the European Union. However, over the past couple of years, Polish shoppers resumed their visits.”

“My business with Russians and Ukrainians is based on mutual trust. There are Russians, Ukrainians, Bulgarians and Hungarians that I have known and doing business with for more than 30 years,” he said.

Merk Karaca, the owner of a textile company, said that business with Ukraine completely stopped someone and a half month ago. “When I talked to Ukrainians two weeks ago, they said “the situation is like the war had never broken out.” Russia’s share in my business volume is 40 percent, whereas Ukraine accounts for around 60 percent.”

Muhammet Sancaktar, who runs a business in Laleli, agrees that trade with Ukrainians has started to pick up.

“When the war started, they [Ukrainians] placed orders on the phones or video calls. Now, those, who live in safe places, are traveling to Istanbul via Romania by bus for shopping.”

Sancaktar, however, noted that despite the improvement in the situation, his business volume with Ukraine is still around 20-30 percent of what it was before the war.

He also said that even though he cannot reach some of the clients, he is not generally facing problems with payments. “They wire money for the goods they buy or make payments in person when they come here.”