Visitors desert Istanbul’s historical Grand Bazar due to virus outbreak

Visitors desert Istanbul’s historical Grand Bazar due to virus outbreak

Visitors desert Istanbul’s historical Grand Bazar due to virus outbreak

The Grand Bazaar usually attracts between 300,000 and half a million visitors every day. (Alamy Photo)

The historical Grand Bazaar, one of the oldest surviving shopping centers in the world, has been largely deserted for the last 10 days due to concerns over the coronavirus outbreak, shopkeepers have complained.

The covered market shops made a good start in 2020, said Hasan Fırat, the head of the shopkeepers’ association at the Grand Bazaar.

“Now, it’s the coronavirus outbreak that dismays us. The number of visitors at the Grand Bazaar has decreased dramatically in recent days due to the epidemic,” he told daily business newspaper Dünya, noting that the decline has been nearly 60 percent.

The 64 streets of the market are usually occupied with large groups of tourists, but not even a single bus arrives at the main gate nowadays, said Fırat.

“We are worried that it could go from bad to worse. The shops were normally open until 7 p.m. in winter, but shopkeepers now close at about 5:30 p.m. and go home,” he added.

During the last 10 years, the Grand Bazaar’s jewelry shops have accounted for roughly 60 percent, or 250 tons, of Turkey’s yearly gold exports.

But that ratio could plunge to 30 percent under these circumstances, according to Fırat.

Some 2,500 shops operate in the 560-year-old building, and Fırat, noting that it could take several years to find a shop to buy or rent at the turn of the century.

“The number of shops on sale has reached 20,” he said, adding that average price for a shop was around 22 million Turkish Liras ($3.6 million), according to online listings.

Fırat said the average rent prices were around $5,000 per square meter on the main streets but that many shops were now used as depots due to the slowdown in business.

Trading volume has shrunk nearly 80 percent since 2014, another shopkeeper said.

“We are selling upmarket products. We need tourists, who are usually from Europe, Canada or the U.S., to spend lavishly. But nowadays we have Chinese, Iranian and Arabic tourists instead. They don’t spend much. The average spending per visitor decreased from $1,200 in 2014 to $617 last year,” said Karmen Antiques Manager Mustafa Burkut.

Meanwhile, the ratio of spice and sweet shops are on the rise across the Grand Bazaar, according to registrations. The number of spice and Turkish delight shops reached 55, although there are still 600 jewelry shops and 328 textile stores in the bazaar.