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Old shops in Istanbul swept away by prosperity

As Istanbul reaps the benefits of economic growth, old buildings in the city centre have been expensively renovated or torn down to make room for new ones.
ISTANBUL // As property prices in the centre of Istanbul shoot up during Turkey?s unprecedented economic boom, traditional shops are being forced to make way for trendy boutiques, cafes and hotels.

Ugur Guracar ran the Librairie de Pera, a shop renowned for antiquarian and rare books, for almost 30 years before he had to give up this month as a wave of gentrification rolled through the old town.

“I made a dream a reality, but now it?s over,” Mr Guracar, 57, said as he sipped coffee at a cafe close to his shuttered shop in Galip Dede Street near the Galata Tower, one of Istanbul?s main historical attractions.

As Istanbul reaps the benefits of economic growth that has more than doubled Turkey?s GDP in the past decade, some old buildings in the city centre have been expensively renovated or torn down to make room for new ones.Prices for commercial property in the city rose 17 per cent on the year to July.

The consequences hit some long-established shops around Istiklal Street. The city?s main shopping street was formerly known as “Grande Rue de Pera”, and is the heart of Beyoglu, the theatre and nightlife district. The Galip Dede Street, with Mr Guracar?s book shop, forms an extension of Istiklal Street towards the Galata Tower.

The Librairie de Pera was housed in a run-down building that was built about 100 years ago as a police station and today belongs to the General Directorate of Foundations, a state agency administrating many old public properties in the city.

“About three years ago, they sent me a letter telling me they wanted to have the building renovated by private companies” and would dissolve his lease, Mr Guracar said.

He went to court, but lost his appeal.

Mr Guracar said he was not opposed to a rent increase beyond the subsidised 750 lira (Dh1,340) a month he was paying, and had offered to do the renovation himself.

But the fact that the businessmen doing the renovation were renting the building and another one next to it for 40,000 lira a month from the state made it clear to him that a new lease would be out of reach for him. “So I handed over the keys,” he said.

Mr Guracar?s shop took up two of three rooms in the small two-storey house.

The history of the Librairie de Pera reflects Istanbul?s character as a cosmopolitan city with many identities. The shop was founded in the 1920s by a business partner of the former book purveyor to the Ottoman court and was later owned by families from the city?s Greek community. One owner, in the 1940s, was a prominent historian.

Mr Guracar, a regular at the book shop, was asked by a daughter of the historian to take it over in 1984, when he was a student. He agreed because the price was “very adequate”, as he put it. He later set up a website that he now hopes will help him to stay in business even without a shop. He said he had about 56,000 books in storage.

“It would have been important in a place like Istanbul to keep such a shop afloat,” he said. But the authorities were interested only in earning as much money for the state as possible. “It?s a shame for Turkey.”

Also hit by the wave of gentrification was a 1940s sweet shop, Inci, and the historic Emek theatre, which was demolished this year.

Up the road from the Librairie de Pera, another well-known but struggling Istanbul book seller has enlisted the help of Turkey?s Nobel laureate, Orhan Pamuk, to raise money.

“We have had a 300 per cent rent increase within the last five years,” said Seda Ates, the co-owner of the Robinson Crusoe 389 book shop on Istiklal Street.

In an effort to raise cash quickly, the shop is asking customers to pay 500 or 1,000 lira up front for a “RobKart” and use the card afterwards to buy books or magazines. Pamuk is appearing on posters promoting the cards.

“Gentrification has been on the increase around here,” Ms Ates said. When she opened her book shop 19 years ago, there were cobblers and other small shops in the vicinity. “Now, Istiklal is filled with big global brands.”


Updated: September 15, 2013 04:00 AM



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