Hampar Gögdemir, Kurtulus, Istanbul

Posted 16 July 2009 in Class divide/inequalities Competition Cultural tradition Economic impact Turkey - Istanbul



A shop in the Kurtulus neighbourhood of Istanbul. Fitted-out with elegant display counters, it sells good Turkish brands of unisex underwear and nightwear.

Business isn’t good. The present crisis is affecting sales because vast quantities of clothing were manufactured in Turkey for an export market that no longer exists. These items are being sold off locally at very low retail prices in factory shops, markets and arcades. Mr Gögdemir can’t afford to match these low prices. However, he’s got more chance of survival because he owns the shop so is not paying rent. There were six other shops like his in the neighbourhood, which have all closed down.

Shopping habits are changing. Nowadays customers either go Marks & Spencer for quality or to the arcades and markets for very cheap prices. He told us of a long-term customer who brought her daughter into the shop. Upsettingly, the daughter didn’t want to buy anything, she preferred M&S.

Mr Gögdemir knows many of his customers by sight. He’s known some customers since the shop opened 25 years ago. A few elderly customers still bring him home-cooked food. He used to know the customers better. Few take the time to sit down for a glass of tea and talk about the different generations, like they used to. They come in, buy what they need and disappear.

The community used to be closer knit. A woman might buy a housedress and show her neighbour. Half an hour later the neighbour would turn up to buy one too. Then half an hour later another neighbour would come. It’s not like this anymore.

Mr Gögdemir used to drink tea and play games with other local shopkeepers in the street outside. However, tea from the teahouse has grown increasingly expensive (five glasses a day costs over £60 a month), so now he brews his own. He’s never encouraged other shopkeepers to enter and socialise within the shop, as he wouldn’t want to present a female customer with a row of men in front of the counter.

We spoke to Mr Gögdemir about the way shopkeepers greet customers. In the underwear shop, with its higher class of customer and more intimate nature, he usually addresses customers as ‘madam’ or ‘sir’, to keep a respectful distance. However, “if someone wearing a headscarf comes in or someone who seems lower class and therefore might care more about her womanly virtue or reputation, I will be sensitive to her situation and without thinking, I would greet her as ‘Abla’ (big sister), to try to put her at ease.” By using kinship names like aunt or sister, a shopkeeper makes the customer family. By removing sexuality from their interaction, he protects her virtue.