Turkish bazaars versus the supermarkets

KAYSERI, Turkey — Before dawn, dozens of dusty trucks roll into a vacant lot and bring it to life. It’s Saturday, the day when village merchants come to Kayseri’s Talas district to sell fresh fruit and whatever else they have. 

“One Lira, one Lira! Over here, one kilogram, one Lira!” shouted 13-year-old Hasan Erol from behind his father’s fruit stand. 

At the market, shoppers find an array of fresh fruit for sale laid out neatly in colorful rows on tables under patchy burlap tents or sometimes just exploding from trucks. Gargantuan cabbages and melons roll on the dusty ground while a cornucopia of seasonal fruit and veggies including fresh tomatoes, eggplants, carrots and bananas wait to be sold.   

Turkey’s 13 percent unemployment rate coupled with its rural poor makes markets like this crucial to most merchants’ livelihood. 

“The supermarkets are hurting us badly,” said Aydin Topbas as he shared a cup of Turkish tea. Major European chains including Migros, Kipa and Carrefour have moved into most large Turkish cities.  

Topbas left high school 12 months ago to start work in the market. Topbas and his father work together selling spices in empty parking lots like this across the region. Topbas is pessimistic about his chances of continuing the family business, and he’s not alone. 

“Some days are good, but others are really bad,” said Baki Kara, a 27-year-old merchant who started working with his father at the age of 16. 

Kara works one of the many fruit stands in the market. He lives on a farm just outside Kayseri with his family, including his 10-year-old son, Yunus, who now helps his father at the market. Yunus serves him tea while Dad grabs one of the blackened kilogram blocks to balance fruit on a scale.   

Kara’s 62-year-old father, Omer, still visits the market although he’s technically retired. Turks used to retire and collect social security very early, some even retired as early as the age of 40 just 10 years ago.  

Today, however, younger Turks have to wait until they’re at least 62 to retire, while some older Turks can still collect in their early 50s.   

Omer and his wife watch their son and grandson carry on the family business while strolling around the crowded bazaar.  Although development has drawn people away, the market continues to fill up every Saturday morning with older, more traditional-looking women from all over the city. At a market where two pounds of carrots can cost you less than 75 cents, the price is right for many Turkish families and penny-pinching students. 

Towards the far end of the market, shoppers can find a treasure trove of random goodies. Factory rejects, knockoff shirts and sweatpants, cheap Chinese-made toys and household supplies, and even a vendor selling scarves and sewing supplies for the massive “Teyze” demographic. (“Teyze” is a word meaning maternal aunt, but is also traditionally used as a term of endearment for elder women.)     

Whether or not this village tradition will survive the rapid pace of development that some economic experts foresee, for now these markets remain the only sources of income for hundreds of families.  Moreover, Turkey needs all the jobs it can generate for such a young population eager to work. 

At the end of my “bazaar day,” I left with a broom, a pound of carrots, a plastic dish-drying rack and a spatula. All bought for less than five Lira, or $3.50. 

Oh, and, of course, two cups of tea. No charge.