MAC Cosmetics and the Vakko clothing company recently opened stores in the Grand Bazaar. I am shocked and appalled. More than anything, I am devastated to learn that none of my Turkish friends and coworkers are bothered by this frightening development. Yes, the Grand Bazaar claims to be the ‘oldest mall in the world’, and with over 20 malls in the city of Istanbul, it has certainly been established that Turks love their malls. But, I remember what happened when chain stores and restaurants brought an end to locally owned businesses and shops throughout the United States, and across the world.
With over 4,000 shops, and 64 covered streets, the Grand Bazaar is one of the oldest and largest covered markets in the world. Opened 550 years ago, it struggles to maintain its significance in the midst of a historical, albeit tourist-dominated area of the city. The Grand Bazaar attracts herds of tourists to its maze of wonders and trinkets. While many of these shops no longer serve Istanbul residents, they offer a wide array of Turkish goods and products to the masses of people who pass through the bazaar each day. It is a must-see experience and a top shopping destination for anyone who comes to the city. Turkish salesmen speak 3-5 languages to catch the attention of tourists and lure them into their shops. They sell their ceramics, soaps, gold, leather and jewelry, as well as many other tourist trinkets and souvenirs. Selling is an art, and major purchases are bought after rounds of tea, small talk and bargaining. The streets are narrow, the shopkeepers are friends, the stores are small and cozy (imagine the size of a stand at your local farmers market). What will happen as more and more international shops attempt to enter the Grand Bazaar?
What currently stands as 2-3 specialized shops could become one larger and standardized store. The owners will no longer be ordinary middle class Turkish citizens, but large corporations, without a particular stake in the community, the history and the future of the bazaar, the neighborhood or the city. Rents could skyrocket and the merchants that once created the lively atmosphere of the bazaar could be replaced by sterile and sleek stores that can be found in any mall, in any city. I hope this does not happen, and the current atmosphere and shops are preserved, and the merchants maintain their stake in the bazaar.
Take a look for yourself. Don’t these shiny new shops seem to be out of place?