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Shopping & Style

How to find the best shops, trends and designers that define the style of the city

For old times' sake: flea markets

A worthy Sunday tradition, whether you're buying or browsing


September, 2012

by: Görkem Bereket

To me, a flea market, with its typical sounds and smells, has the same amount of character as a bar or a corner where you retreat to people-watch. Not only does it offer me dozens of things on which to focus my attention; it also draws in colourful characters that brighten my day.


Though flea markets are scattered throughout the city, the most exciting one by far is the crowd that relocated to Balat-Küçükpazar after the dissolution of Topkapı’s famous flea market. Most of the vendors here know each other and treat their customers like friends. Just about all of Istanbul’s out-of-use furniture can be found here; in fact, I’m convinced that if we were to pay attention to the faces of the people collecting rubbish on our streets, we might recognise some of them from the flea market. They spend the week collecting items ‘from the rubbish bins in posh neighbourhoods’ (their words) before selling them on Sundays. There’s also the occasional ‘found’ object here, of course. Two years ago, when I found the pair of green trainers that had been stolen from my door on sale for 10 TL at the flea market that same week, I neither asked the vendor about them, nor did I wonder how they came to be there. I’d learnt not to ask those kinds of questions at flea markets as a child, when the man who was selling us our car’s radio at the time simply said, ‘That’s the custom’. You never really know the origins of the item you’re buying.


While some of the visitors will be swept away by romantic ideas about the soul of objects, the vendors don’t care much for any of that. Their only real concern is to get rid of all their stock and get their money home. Once, a young woman who bought an old painting because of the apology note written on the back told me, ‘This canvas is like the reparation of a broken heart, maybe it was done by a young artist who cheated on his girlfriend and wanted to apologise.’ The vendor selling the painting explained, ‘She paid 20 TL for that shabby painting, when I’d have actually gone all the way down to 5 TL.’ I didn’t know if I felt worse for the woman or the artist. There are also the antiquers who arrive as soon as the sun rises, before the booths have even been set up. They prowl around like lions on the plains, hoping to find potentially valuable items to purchase for 5 TL and then sell them for hundreds. It’s important to add, however, that this is also the group that knows the most about flea market merchandise.


Although the youths who come to take black-and-white photos of the poor, with their dolled-up girlfriends tagging along, may seem a little out of place here, they bring their own energy to the already-diverse atmosphere. While the subjects of their photographs tend to be old toys, cheap cameras in need of repair almost always top shopping lists. Nowhere else will you witness people already carrying thousands of lira worth of photography equipment stopping to buy faulty cameras. Then there are the tourists in search of an exotic Istanbul experience, wandering around with a smile that tells people, ‘I’m open to other cultures’. All cynicism aside, they add something of their own to the flea market experience, as well.


Of course the population that keeps the flea markets in business consists of minimum wage earners, retirees, African and Asian immigrants, the unemployed, the homeless and similar groups of people who meet their shopping needs in more unconventional ways. There are also people who resist buying new things for whatever reason, as well as those who rank functionality above appearance and focus on the ratio of cost to usefulness. I, on the other hand, tend to look for things that won’t be of any use to me but that someone else might be able to use – a habit passed on from my tech-head father. The flea market sees the most business from me when I have to buy a birthday or housewarming present for a friend.


Heading to flea markets early in the morning is always a good idea, since the great finds are gone by lunchtime. The most enjoyable aspect of the whole experience is settling yourself down with a cup of tea and comparing purchases with other shoppers. The result of some heated negotiations are the wrench and hammer set I got for 5 TL, the set of ten VCDs of old Turkish movies for 2 TL, a plastic phone cover – taken from a faulty phone of the same model – to stop my phone’s battery falling out for 50 kuruş, a Walkman in need of repair for 2 TL, a television remote for 1 TL, a shower head, glass water jug and an old photograph of a sheep that captured my attention in a moment of nostalgia. All in all, a rather profitable visit to the flea market, I’d say.



So... where are these markets?

Dolapdere Flea Market

Set up on behind the Shell petrol station and Apik İşkembecisi in Dolapdere, the flea market springs to life between 05.00 and 06.00 on Sundays. Although the pack-up time changes weekly, the action generally continues into the night.


Küçükpazar Flea Market

This flea market in Eminönü-Küçükpazar took the place of the Topkapı Flea Market, which shut down in 2009. The bustle begins around 06.00 on Sundays and slows down significantly by afternoon.


Feriköy’de Bir Pazar

The space which plays host to the city’s most abundant organic market on Saturdays offers old furniture and antiques on Sundays from 10.00 to 18.30.


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