Thursday, 20 August 2009

Reg Almond, Bardwells, Sheffield

Reg has sold electronic components at Bardwell’s for 40 years. He works with his wife Jenny [right], who, along with her brother Rod, inherited the business from their father, who set up the business in 1944. Rod's son Chris also works at the shop. Despite saying he hates electronics and customers refusing to believe he doesn’t know how to build or fix something, Reg is an engineer by trade, knows his components and will try his best to satisfy hopeful, or technically adept customers.

A first-time customer looking for a replacement 60 milliamp fuse from his stereo’s tuner, had heard of Bardwell’s reputation for stocking all things electronic. He’d been told by a high street electronics retailer that if anyone's going to have that fuse, it's Bardwell's. Reg tested the fuse, confirmed it was “deceased”, and said anything under a 100 is not made anymore. So rare in fact, the shop's 60mA drawer was empty. They had some 80s, but Reg advised it wouldn’t be safe enough and suggested a 50 would do the job. Because the 50s are rare too, why not buy two? Total price 50p.

Reg says the shop could be busy with one customer after another, but in an hour they might only take a tenner, as some items cost as low as 25p. It’s tough to earn a living from the shop nowadays – they've not had a pay rise in ten years - because people don’t buy electronic components like they used to. Reg offers up two cultural shifts as root causes. Electronics isn't taught in schools like it used to be and cheap Chinese imports are flooding UK shops. They used to get loads of school kids coming in, buying stuff for projects they would build, but now it’s cheaper to buy new rather than fix things.

Bardwell's has survived because they’ve diversified their stock to include TV and Computer accessories. They also sell online (Bardwells are ebay Power Sellers) and they also take orders through their website (

J & B Hats'n'Things, Pitsmoor, Sheffield

Hanging out at Philip Biki's shop, you can feel the warmth. Whoever walks into his shop will be sure of a kind welcome and an open mind. Whether it's searching through the floor-to-ceiling shelving to find just the right hat or bag, or talking through life's ups and downs and putting the world to rights, Phil's shop is the place.

Phil used to have a stall on The Moor and loved it, all ages passing by and lots of chat. Moving to his shop on Ellesmere Road in 2001, he has seen 10 year-olds grow into adults and bring their own kids in. One such man came in with his two young sons looking for a hat - something "sharp and surprising" - and picked a black pinstripe trilby out of the extensive, eclectic stock.

If Phil doesn't have what a customer needs, he'll note the request in his diary, then when he’s got it in, will phone the customer to come and collect. Phil’s an experienced international wholesaler and takes regular buying trips to London, New York (where he buys from a big 6,000-outlet wholesale centre) or perhaps Hong Kong, Shenzen, or Guangzhou.

J B Hats’n’Things is all about a unique look. Friend and regular customer Val, told us that she (and many others) give Phil a budget to buy things for her, on his international trips. He knows her likes and dislikes and will always come back with items just for her. And they’re hers, there’s no way Phil would sell them, or anything similar, to anyone else. In fact, the shop usually stocks just one of each bag, coat, hat or pair of shoes anyway. Regulars know that if they buy from Phil, they won't see anyone else walking down the street in the same thing. Customers can also have their hats personalised by Phil’s wife, with beading or feathers, particularly popular for weddings.

Customers will go to quite some lengths to buy from Phil. One time we were in the shop, Phil received a phone call from a customer who now lives in Zambia and whose husband was about to visit her. This customer wanted Phil’s wife to pick out a hat for her husband to collect and bring to Zambia. Incidentally, Phil’s wife, having given so much advice and support in the shop over the years, is now studying psychology.

You can't really call a majority of the people in the shop, customers. Of course, they do buy from time to time, especially when the weather changes, but most drop in far more often, sometimes daily, because of friendship, the need to talk or perhaps for some local advice. Val says it's all about respecting people for who they are and being open. Another friend, who stops by on his way to University, said if the shop were to close, it would leave a huge gap in the neighbourhood.

Saleh’s Mini-Market, Spital Hill, Burngreave, Sheffield

Saleh Hussein Abdullah started his business in 1996 and is now the longest-standing shopkeeper around The Green at the top of Spital Hill, Burngreave.
Serving the Yemeni/Somali/Asian communities, he’s seen the area transform. Apparently, the neighbourhood used to have higher crime, but as more Moslem families moved in, the area has gained stability. Saleh says “It’s got a bit more problematic in the last three or four years, but it’s much better than it was in the 1990s.”

When he first arrived, the area used to be relatively uninhabited. There were lots of empty properties and the council would give prospective tenants a few sets of keys and let them choose which they wanted. But towards the end of the nineties, the housing stock filled up. Now, people can wait up to a year to be housed.

Saleh owns the building his shop occupies and business was very good up until a year or so ago. Recently however, his takings have halved. Saleh thinks this is partly to do with the recession and people being more careful, but also, there used to be 4 mini-markets around The Green and now there are 13, so there’s a lot less custom to go round.

Most of Saleh's trade is done on credit. Customers can accumulate up to £200 or £300 each and pay it off at the end of the month. He has a credit book in which he writes things down, but some of his customers just help themselves to what they need, (there’s a golf club in the shop, which is used to hook down boxes of cereal or rice from the upper shelves), then keep a note of what they owe themselves.

Occasionally, someone will ask for cigarettes or some Khat to chew and say they’ll come back with the money. He knows they probably won’t, but as it’s only a couple of quid, he’ll still give it to them to save a fuss. Most customers are local, but some come from afar. Occasionally they’ll even get Saudi Arabian students from Manchester driving over to Sheffield to eat in neighbouring restaurants, before stocking up on familiar flavours
at Saleh's. The language of the shop is primarily Arabic.

If customers want something that he doesn’t stock, they will go elsewhere, but otherwise they are very loyal. When we asked why customers choose his shop rather than one of other 12, he replied: “I respect them and they respect me”. His friend agreed. “He’s been here the longest and he is trusted”.

NB: As was the case with almost every shop we visited in Istanbul, Saleh hospitably offered us a drink during our conversation, and gave us a bottle of mineral water each.

Accelerate, Attercliffe, Sheffield

Debbie, Stuart and Edie are part of the Sheffield fell-running ‘tribe’, passionate about running up hills, down dales, along canals and up mountains.

Over the course of the afternoon we spent at the shop, Stuart takes us through a range of subjects from store layout, business development, how they are bucking the economic downturn, marketing, ergonomics, shoe design, the scope of the running community, and the importance of the cup of tea. He also explained why he needs cover the city’s football divide, stocking shoes in red (for Blades fans) and blue (for Owls).

The shop has been open a few months, sited in Attercliffe, an area close to the city centre, associated more with manufacturing and lap-dancing clubs than state-of-the-art sports shops. However, their building G9 is one of several ‘G for Gateway’ buildings owned by a local millionaire, who is investing in the area he grew up and hoping to kickstart an upward spiral. And as Stuart says, “the locals have been really welcoming and friendly”.

Of course, Accelerate offers what any good running shop offers – an excellent range of kit and shoes, with the equipment, experience and knowledge required to analyse gait and get a good fit. However, this shop goes a few steps further.

As customers enter, they are greeted with “hello, kettle’s on. Tea? Coffee?” Rather surprised customers wonder where the catch is but there’s no catch, just a warm sense of community formed by a shared love of running up hills in the pouring rain! They also let customers wear the shoes they’ve bought outside in the streets and will still change them if they’re not right.

Stuart and Debbie lead regular ‘Breakfast’ runs for their customers, an hour or so out in the area followed by coffee and pastries. The shop sponsors two local pro fell- and road-runners.

Beanies, Walkley, Sheffield

L-R: Chris, Jan, Matt and Cath

Beanies is a co-op selling fresh fruit, veg and wholefoods from its current location on Crooks Valley Road.

The Co-op - Since 1986, they’ve built up a business that now supports 19 full- and part-time co-op members. Matt is the longest-running member, who joined in 1992, Jan joined a few months later. There’s a flat management structure where all the current 13 directors have an equal say.

Customers - From local households buying groceries for a week, to students buying two mushrooms, a carrot and an onion every day. Loyal customers travel from as far as Chesterfield, wanting to follow the ethics of natural wholefoods. They trust Beanies to have explored the food’s provenance, so they can buy what they want, without having to read every label.

Deliveries - They operate a box scheme, delivering organic fruit and veg across Sheffield. They’ll meet the most exacting of requests, such as including a pack of ground cumin (if a shopping list requests half a teaspoon of ground cumin!)

Suppliers - The co-op has built up strong roots with local growers, such as the kitchen gardens at Worley Hall. It’s even been known for Matt, who is a good gardener, to visit a grower and advise on how and what to grow and when to pick it. Beanies know what they can sell and advise what they would buy from a grower. They are soon to start selling bread made in their own bakery.

Economics - They are not sure yet about the affects of the economic crisis, because it’s always slower in summer, students aren’t around and families are on holiday. But they probably won’t be voting themselves a wage raise until they know what is going to happen. The post office, two doors up, recently closed and this has impacted how many people pop in.

Any fresh produce that’s past its best is sold off at a cheaper price. If still unsold, it becomes staff food. Then it might be given to people who come in to ask for food for their guinea pigs, iguanas, rabbits etc, then finally it goes onto a compost heap at a local farm.

Local community - Some locals have greater needs than others and those working at the shop do what they can. People might ask to use the phone because their electricity has been cut off, or for 20p for something, or sometimes borrow money from members of staff. It’s even been known for the shop to provide safe haven for someone at risk, or offer their van if transport is needed. These kindnesses can work both ways. For example, if a local saw a break-in at the shop, they might be more likely to call the police.

Beanies will try and help the community’s more vulnerable people where they can. They take shopping to people’s cars or carry it home for them if they can’t manage. One elderly woman would walk to Beanies but didn’t like the walk back to her empty house, for fear she wouldn't make it. So, each time, a member of the co-op would escort her home. Another woman couldn’t get to the shop any more, so Jan would pop in with a delivery each day during her lunch break. Tea and biscuits developed into a long-term friendship.

Politics - Recently, a Green Party Councillor came into the shop and Jan complained ‘our vigil in the peace garden was broken up and we were moved on’. The councillor was supportive and said ‘email me and I’ll do something’. Jan says the shop represents the tip of the environmental iceberg and that she often notices the ‘green’ community connections taking place in the queue.

Howcrofts, Stannington, Sheffield

Howcrofts is an unassuming Off Licence come Grocers with a big claim to fame. The shop has opened daily for the past 63 years! Sundays, Bank Holidays, Christmas or New Year, every day for at least for a few hours.

Maureen Vickers, her son Noel [pictured here], and husband Robert, have served behind this counter for much of their lives, fetching what the customer wants from the shelves that stock that little bit of everything people might need. It’s not self-service. You ask for a tin of tuna and they get it for you. They don’t make a fuss or draw attention to themselves. Just open daily, stay open late and stock what local people need to buy.

“There's always a bottle of champagne in the fridge”, as Maureen says, “we never know when someone’s going to need it nice and cold for a celebration”.

They continue the work started by her father, Wilfred Howcroft, who began running the shop in 1947 and moved his family into the adjoining house, when Maureen was five. Back then, the shop was owned by John Smiths Brewery (and later by Courage) and sold beer, sherry and port on tap. Locals would bring their own jugs to be filled and take home. They also sold powdered eggs, sugar and flour from huge tubs as well as butter, lard and cheese, sold by weight from slabs. With no refrigerator, dried meats hung from hooks, which remain in the ceiling.

Noel showed us this well-thumbed photo from the 1950s, of his grandfather standing outside the shop. You can just make out the cigarette vending machine on the wall and the free-standing sweet machine. "There’s no way you could have those outside now." says Noel. Some other things have changed too.

Now the family own the building and the business. They removed the draught pumps about 20 years ago, but have kept them in the garage, along with the old John Smiths magnet sign. All stock used to be delivered, but now they buy everything from Sheffield’s Cash’n’Carrys. The shop’s now decorated with Maureen’s eclectic collection of witch paraphernalia – some dolls cackle when you clap your hands – and there's even a fairy-light spider’s web on the outside of the building, which they switch on at night. There used to be other shops nearby – a butcher and so on – but they’ve closed down and become residential.

No doubt that private ownership has helped them stay in business, but Maureen and Noel think their longevity is down to staying open till 11pm and knowing what people want. They’ll stock a particular brand of fags or a certain type of martini, especially for customers who ask. Living near the shop means their customers are neighbours and friends. And it doesn’t take too long to get to know more recent arrivals. Customers seem to respect what they do, so they don't get any trouble. They’ve seen generations grow up and some of the kids that used to buy sweets are now grandparents, alongside Maureen herself. Now you’ll find her grandchildren picking items off the shelves and playing shop. The family have every intention of improving on their 63-year run.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Jeff Fearn, J B Tools, Castle Market, Sheffield

Castle Market has played a big part in Jeff’s life. For the last 20 years, he’s run a hardware business from a couple of units on the lower ground floor of Sheffield’s lively indoor market, which has been under threat of relocation for the past decade.

In the late 1980s, Jeff bought the business from Joyce Brammer, the 'JB' of JB Tools. Business was so good for the first few years that Cyril, Joyce’s husband, stayed on in the shop to help out. Jeff also employed Sheila (for 16 years, until her retirement), his son Carl and a part-timer. Jeff says "Back then the market was really buzzing. I was constantly bringing in new stock and out sourcing new merchandise".

Business was not his only success at the market. He fell in love with the owner of the haberdashery stall next door. Now she also runs another wool stall across the way, and a card-making / crafts stall on the other side of Jeff. They married 15 years ago and have a son – adding to the three from Jeff's first marriage. One of these, Tony, has just opened a hardware stall on the floor above. He cuts keys and stocks paint and other stuff his dad doesn’t, and is apparently doing quite well. If Jeff doesn't have something he'll send a customer up to his son and vice versa. In the long run, if Castle Market does relocate to The Moor, they hope to consolidate into one larger shop with Jeff slowly withdrawing from the business as he nears retirement.

The business has slowly declined over 15 years, to the extent that Jeff only employs one part-timer. He cites two main reasons for this. First, it’s the opening of new supermarkets close to the city centre. Each that has opened has taken a percentage of custom away. Before them, customers would come to the market for their fruit, veg, meat, fish, etc., then buy what hardware they needed from him. Secondly, ten years ago, the Council made public their plan to relocate the market to the other side of the city centre. Delays and indecision have led to years of uncertainty for traders, which has accelerated the decline in the market's fortunes. Because the market might not be there in a few years, new businesses are reluctant to sign up for tenancies. Existing tenants whose contracts are up for renewal are deciding not to renew their lease for the same reason. The Co-op supermarket, which attracts a lot shoppers to the locale, recently decided they won’t commit to 10 more years and will close their store, which will have a negative impact on all the other traders. So as local shops/stalls fall empty there’s no one willing to take them on, except the odd, short-term, transient trader. Also, while the market's future hangs in the balance, the Council has not invested as much as it could have in maintenance and repairs. The building is slowly disintegrating and would now need millions spent to bring it up to scratch.

The state of disrepair means it’s unlikely Jeff’s preference for renovation would be a considered option, as the Council’s plans for the move are reportedly a step closer. He isn't sure relocation is a good idea, saying that Castle Market is working class, and that customers mostly arrive by bus from the lower income suburbs on Sheffield’s north-side. The proposed relocation to The Moor, on the south side of the city centre, is closer to the more affluent suburbs, where people are more likely to have a car and shop at supermarkets.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Enver Korkmaz, Pinar, Tepebashi, Istanbul

Enver Korkmaz is a butcher in Tepebasi, a few streets of calm amidst Tarlabasi neighbourhood. He’s 28 and for the last eight years he’s run ‘Pinar’. His father set up the shop after migrating to Istanbul over 30 years ago from Erzincan, a town in eastern Turkey. Since the 60s/70s many others from Erzincan have settled here, amongst familiar faces. Men like Ishan, a local plumber, or Ali, an estate agent, both of whom knew Enver’s father (who died four years ago). They watched over Enver and his two brothers as they grew up. Shared roots and big hearts have made for a close-knit community, that feels different from the rest of Tarlabasi.

“Trust”, according to Enver is the mainstay of his business. He knows all of his customers and says they have a good relationship built on trust of his produce and his qualities as a neighbour, as one of them.

Open from 8am to 9pm, 7 days a week, Enver’s a major part of the street life. A customer can shout down an order from their apartment window, which he’ll prepare and deliver. There are customers who care to stay and chat for a while, over tea and a cigarette. He’ll ask some people to run errands for him, and his neighbours who’ll borrow his stools to sit outside. There are parents who ask Enver to keep an eye on their children playing on the street. Households entrust him with their keys. Some even leave him the key to their strongbox.

Enver accepted our invitation to make a project, that would bring together these various groups (and others) for photographs. We reasoned that by recognising these groups, we wanted to show how ‘trust’ in its various guises was important to the community, and reveal the unique social bonds created by Enver.

We sat all day, for a few days, outside the shop, chatting with neighbours, making friends. We made diplomatic visits to other local shops, and to the men who frequent the local tea shop, to talk about the project. We debated points of view like, “if the British Government can manipulate 1 million people on to the streets of Tehran, why should we be trusted to photograph Tepebasi?”

A few days later, we started to take photographs for people that they wanted, of their children and families, and of the local teashop, to help build trust around our intentions.

There were some problems. Primarily when a local (mis) informed the police, who then questioned Enver. They warned him not to work with us, saying we worked for an international organization conspiring to damage the community. Enver needed some reassurance, and letter confirming our identity from Platform Garanti did the trick. He showed it the police the second time they visited and said we are doing the photos.

People where naturally concerned as to how we as foreigners would try to represent them. Some also spoke of other problems that threaten the community and some of the safeguards taken. For example, local landlords have an informal agreement, that rents here are twice as much as a few streets away in Tarlabasi, to help defend against the encroachment of drugs, prostitution and other ‘undesirables’. Gentrification is also an issue. Relatively cheap buildings, it’s prime location near the city centre, and the attractive renovation opportunities, making Tepebasi a prime site for ‘gentrification’.

Whilst some enterprising locals let out rooms, apartments or buildings, which they bought when prices were low, not everyone has the same resources. Enver says he doesn’t want to live or work anywhere else, and with his shop, he can be confident in his chances of staying put. However, some in the community will be priced out, and like the Greeks who once dominated this neighbourhood in the 1950s, will have to find a home elsewhere.

Muharrem Yorganci’s Archive

Now aged 83, Mr Yorganci bought a camera at the age of 14 and has since habitually photographed and archived all parts of his life including family, friends, weddings, funerals and the customers of their shop.

He ran a small shop with his beloved wife Nermin, for 50 years. “A very beautiful and sweet commercial life passed by. The most important thing was that we did it together.” Their shop was situated in a fairly low-income neighbourhood near Eminonu. His customers were mostly neighbours and friends from the same town on the Black Sea coast. “There was social intimacy in our area. I offered them a chair, we served tea and would talk.”

What follows are extracts from an interview with Mr Yorganci about his life, shop and his photographs.

“We lived above the shop and I remember being disturbed at all hours. A tailor on a deadline might knock at 2am to ask for a replacement for a broken needle. We would serve them, not thinking about profit, but it was our professional duty.”

“When I was a child, my father owned a bakkal, which sold everything for the village. Customers shopped on credit with their debt noted down in our ‘bakkal book’. In 1944, when I had finished school in Istanbul and returned to my village, I wanted to (but didn’t) take photos of the customers and stick them next to their debt. The idea of photographing customers comes from there.”

“In our Istanbul shop, a man had some items in the credit book when he passed away. His son was a child at the time. 15 years later, this young man came to the shop and said ‘I think my father owed you, let’s even things up’. When he began to work, he paid the debt. Because of inflation the debt was nothing at all, but I still let him pay. This gesture, of him remembering to come back and pay his father’s debt, brought tears to our eyes.”

“I replace my camera every few years. Now my daughter says ‘let’s buy you a digital camera’, but I don’t want one. I’ve been taking my films to the same shop since the beginning of the 1970s. I’ve known Rifat, the owner for more than 30 years and there’s a strong bond between us. I sit for an hour or so and drink tea. Then I go again to collect the prints. If I went digital, I would lose that regular contact with my friend.”

Shop photos
“I photographed all the customers I knew, the ones to whom I served tea and chatted with.”

I knew Ahmet from our home town. In Istanbul, he was a neighbour. He worked as a bearer, carrying fruit and vegetables. He bought from the shop all the time and we offered him credit so he could pay later. He’d buy socks, shirts and underwear. When he returned to our hometown for the summer, he would buy gifts. Scarves for his wife, needles and thread. Eau de cologne.”

This man used to work as an assistant for a shoemaker. My wife made his wife’s wedding dress. He’d come and buy things all the time, the same things as Ahmet. Gifts for newborns, socks, scarves and underwear, school materials for his children, bags, etc.”
“This man used to work as a Shoemaker’s assistant. My wife made his wife’s wedding dress. He’d come and buy things all the time, the same things as Ahmet. Gifts for newborns, socks, scarves and underwear, school materials for his children, bags.”

“I would ask children from the neighbourhood to wait by the door so I could take their photograph. I remember this child. She was our neighbour’s daughter. Parents could safely send their children on errands alone. They had confidence in the shops and their owners, and the neighbourhood had very little traffic. She’d buy pens, pencils, notebooks or whatever her mother sent her to buy.”

This photo below shows three of the many photos Mr Yorgani has of himself and which were taken by his customers.

Hayri Öztürk, Bakkal, Üsküdar, Istanbul

The role Hayri Öztürk has played in his neighbourhood has been two-fold. Most of the day, he sits in his Bakkal, a shop that’s a cornerstone of Istanbul’s city life, serving his customers, smoking cigarettes and fingering his Tespih [prayer beads]. Every day, from 8am to 10pm, neighbours drop in for a chat, to buy milk, bread, sweets, cigarettes, or things they forgot to buy at the supermarket. He has a credit book which is used daily, so people can pay at the end of the month, or when they have the money.

Hayri often keeps an eye on his grandson and other children in the neighbourhood, and whilst there for the convenience of others, he seems content with his lot. He owns the shop and the room next door, and lives in the block across the street. “I make ten lira a day and I spend ten lira an evening, at the local club”, he says.

Though when asked about politics in this quiet backstreet of the religiously conservative Üsküdar, a large and densely populated district on Istanbul's Asian side, he spoke of another part of his life. He described this as a low-income area and he does what he can do to help others out, such as give 5 loaves of bread a day to some Roma families nearby.

Before now he may well have been in a position to do a little bit more. Fifteen years ago he retired from the police force. Since then he’s been the elected head of the neighbourhood or Muhtar, but lost the election this year. As Muhtar he was responsible for government activity at the local level, and authorised, amongst other things, to issue copies of official papers: ID Cards, certificate’s of domicile, etc. He took us to his room next door.

This room is the Muhtar’s office, home to all the records of his activities (and that of his successor), with the walls covered in photographs of every man in the neighbourhood, a few photos of him and some press clippings. It feels like a museum, overlooked by a large photo of Ataturk.

Sidestepping the large bottles of Coke stored here, he pulled out a logbook detailing everyone in the neighbourhood and any official actions taken. Next he produced a book of deeds he’d done, a sort of register of assistance. But it was the 100’s of head shots of men that was the most compelling record. He explained they are used to help identify suspects of crimes, but if they were dead he’d write that on their photo. He pointed out one photo he’d tried, but failed, to pull off the wall to blow up to make a large print for the man's funeral.

When asked ‘why men only?’ he said if he put women’s photos up, they would argue and be jealous with each other about who was the most attractive. He introduced us to a woman from the neighbourhood, who was a lawyer, and answered the same question. She said it was because men were the head of the families and the more public face of each family. "So men would be the ones doing the formal, administrative things of public life."

Our local guide, Gunes said the photo wall system was, at least in her experience, unique.

Nothing is too much, Istanbul

The quality of customer service in Istanbul is fundamentally special, wherever you go. No 'exclusive' customer of retailers like Beymer, Burberry or Prada, in Nisantasi would expect anything less. Tea, coffee, wine and newspapers are all part of client hospitality. Laws are breakable = smoking is allowed, and customers can bring pets and food into the shop. Shipping, loyalty cards and financial services are all part of the package. Beymer will collect customers from their hotel, Burberry will take clothing to customers' homes.

But go to your Bakkal [mini-market], butcher or baker, in any Istanbul neighbourhood, and the standards are relatively the same. A chair, chai or water would be offered, time allowing. Cigarettes are offered liberally and pets are welcomed. Credit books are common currency.

Local shops will give out magnets so customers can phone through, or shout down an order ('Bakkal, Bakkal' is a regular call from apartment windows), and the shop staff will pick and pack your groceries and deliver them to your doorstep at no extra charge. If they don't have a something in stock, they'll run elsewhere and get it for you in 15 minutes.

If you trust the shop and the shop trusts you, they'll agree to look after your house or car keys while you're out. The local shops use the same customer service as global businesses, to keep themselves alive. One likely difference is that the local shops are controlled by parents, not by parent companies.

Hampar Gögdemir, Kurtulus, 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.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Kozma Kozmauoglu, Kozmaologu’s Pork Butcher, Dolapdere, Istanbul

Every surface and machine was spotless, or being made so by Kozma’s staff, as he showed us around the processing and storage rooms behind his pork butcher’s shop. The last of the sliced ham was being vacuum-packed as the operation wound down its business for the day. We were offered some slices of very tasty ham, rather than the customary tea. The pork chops, ribs, sausages, smoked or mortadello ham, and other pork products had already been withdrawn from the shop’s display. “With the heat of the day," he explains, “it’s best to keep everything in the large fridges in the back rooms.”

We’d set out to meet with Kozma, ‘The Last Pork Butcher in Istanbul’, after hearing a news broadcast on BBC radio last year. The programme spoke of the potential demise of his business due to new regulations, that some say are part of the government’s increasingly Islamic agenda.

He’s being prevented from slaughtering pigs. The Agriculture Ministry are refusing him a licence to operate his own abattoir, saying it did not meet the strict new guidelines. Careful not to say anything inflammatory, Kozma suggests, “maybe it was the issue with Pig Fever last year that led the government to revoke all pork abattoir licences.”

Others [on the BBC] said the closure of his, and all the other pig slaughterhouses, was “all about Islam” and symptomatic of the pro-Islamic agenda of the governing AK Party, which is popular with religious rural and the conservative, urban middle-class.

Despite this regulatory squeeze, we learnt that Kozmauoglu has negotiated a way to stay in business, as well as adapting to the long-standing decline of the non-Moslem minorities in the Dolapdere neighbourhood.

“These days, it’s rare for there to be walk-in customers, though we do have occasional visitors,” Kozma says. Now it’s mostly wholesale, to cruise ships, Armenian schools, chic delicatessen frequented by secular high society, and hotels, particularly those in the Antalya tourist region on Turkey’s south coast.

The government now allows Kozmaoglu to buy pork - he receives the pigs halved from farms in Mersin and Antalya - then process and distribute pork products around Turkey. They are the only institution in Istanbul to have a licence to do this. In return, he provides the government with a list of his customers to prove he is not selling to Turkish Moslems and is transparent about those he trades with.

To demonstrate the delicacy of his situation, he showed us two shipping documents, noting that the government officials do not put their own names on the documents for fear of reprisals. When asked about the future of the shop he said, “Who knows. It’s difficult to predict the government’s attitude.”

Kozma set up the business in 1977 with his brother Lazari, and comes from an old Greek family that moved to Istanbul 200 years ago, with roots in the central Anatolian town of Karaman. His daughter and son also work for the business. Just behind the shop is the Greek Orthodox Church of Panayia Evangelistria. The neighborhood was predominantly Greek when Istanbul’s Rum [Greek] minority numbered 100,000 or more in the early 1950s. Today, Istanbul’s Rums, as they are called, number around 2,000. The decline was prompted by the riots against the Greeks and other non-Moslem minorities in September 1955. He says some of his extended family emigrated to Greece in the 1970’s, though still come back to visit. There are only 10 or 15 Rums living in the neighborhood nowadays. And for some of them, Kozmaoglu’s shop is a meeting place. They come and chat and drink tea, even if they don’t buy anything.

Akaretler, Istanbul

Photographing Akaretler was a bit of a problem. It's an upscale neighbourhood developed by Beymer, one of Turkey's major fashion brands, in partnership with American bank, Citigroup. We walked down Macka Street, which felt like a public street, combining smart, new apartments and high-end retailers like Mark Jacobs, etc. We took one photo. A pincer move by two private security guards prevented us taking more.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Çarşı, Beşiktaş Istanbul

We visited Beşiktaş fish market because this was the origin for the Çarşı, an unofficial supporters club of Beşiktaş FC. At each match, they chant and show huge banners responding to current or political affairs with witty, anarchistic slogans like, “We are against everything, except Ataturk” that are picked up by TV, and beamed across the world.

Çarşi literally means Market, and we wanted to find out what the relationship was between the market and the Çarşi now. Everyone of the fish sellers we spoke to was ‘Beşiktaş’, and proud they’d just won the league [again]. We learnt, that yes indeed, the Çarşi, are named after here, and the head Çarşi guy buys his fish from here for his restaurant. The fish sellers also pointed us in the direction of the Çarşi shop, in the nearby Grand Beşiktaş precinct.

The shop has official merchandise, but they also design their own gear which reflects the Çarşi slogans, which are admired by many and appropriated by supporters of other teams! On match days, the shop opens at 6-7am and has a queue of 300 people outside. The owner said he rarely goes to the matches now (he’s in his 40s), but the president gives him signed shirts as gifts, he knows all the players, transfer gossip and news about the club, and gets called all the time for his point of view.

The owner told us that he and his brother are part of the inner core Çarşi, which meets weekly. We heard the core have a powerful influence, coordinating banners, chants and deciding if support or protests are needed. For instance, after the Izmit earthquake, the Çarşi mobilized and donated hundreds of thousands of units of blood to the Red Crescent (the Turkish Red Cross). Or when TV pundits repeatedly said Beşiktaş was only winning the league because Galatasaray and Fenerbahçe were ‘actively losing’, the Çarşi protested, sending 1 million set-top boxes back to the TV company.

Made in China, Wholesale markets, Eminonu, Istanbul

Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar is surrounded by wholesale markets where retailers and consumers from all over Turkey come to buy. We found ourselves speaking with a textile salesman called Ekrem. He works for a company, Zumrut Tekstil, that owns a factory near Beijing, China. We were hoping to make a personal connection between Istanbul and Guangzhou, a city we visited earlier in our project. He pointed us in the direction of the Sark Han wholesale market, where the products, and some of the workers, were from China. "Made in China" boxes dominated Sark Han's five story building. Every stall displayed products from the boxes, and when empty they are sent to the basement to be torn up for disposal. We found some migrant workers who were in Turkey to help smooth the supply chain from one culture to another, though none wanted to speak to us. A Turkish wholesaler, who visits China four times a year for 15 days at a time, suggested the Chinese were not talking to us for fear of being found out. "It’s more than likely they are working here illegally. They enter on a 3-month tourist visa, some overstay, some leave and re-enter Turkey to get a new tourist visa".

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Amir and Jasmin Kulauzovic, JAGODA, Trnovo, Ljubljana

Owned by two brothers, Amir and Jasmin, Jagoda opened for business in the Trnovo suburb in 2004. A few minutes walk from the Old Town centre, their bright yellow shop is posted on a pathway between the north bank of the Ljublianica river and a modern 70s housing estate.

From here they sell high quality fruit and vegetables, bringing colour to the neighbourhood in more ways than one. Their main aim is, of course, to run an economically successful business and support their young families. Before they arrived, others had tried but failed to make the shop's location work. However, through their innate creativity, kindness and lots of hard work they have succeeded in an extraordinary way, with the shop becoming a kind of 'social hub' for the neighbourhood.

Jasmin ensures they have good quality produce, visiting the wholesale market at 4.30am every morning to re-stock, from which he creates stunning displays in the shop.
From what we saw, the brothers greet almost every passer-by - customers and non-customers alike - with a variant of 'Dan-Dan' (hi-hi). Both men, queues allowing, will spend their time chatting with people, young and old, perhaps being elderly people's only daily social contact, keeping them in the loop with the neighbourhood. But the brothers offer much more than a good gossip spot, they exude a positivity and trust.

Amir, who looks after the afternoon stint, plays his favourite music, singing along and bringing a smile to the faces of passers-by. They'll look after a customers shopping, whilst they take their dogs for a walk, returning later to collect it, safe and sound. The elderly, in a habit left over from the currency change (from Tolars to Euros), will hand over their purses for the brothers to pick out what they are owed.

This measure of trust works both ways. If a customer is short of cash one day, their name and sum owed is written in the 'little blue book' . We're told this is an increasingly uncommon practice in Ljubljana.

One way they have used to establish a relationship with people in this dog-mad neighbourhood was to give a customer's dog a treat. Almost every dog would get one, till some owners complained about the inconvenience of their dog dragging them out of their way to snaffle up a treat, or that their dog proved allergic to the gift. There's still around six dogs who, each time they pass by, wait by the open door and hoover up their biscuit.

The treats are not just for the dogs. Children are given sweets too! And in autumn, Amir and Jasmin might barbeque corn-on-the-cob to give to their customers. In winter it would be chestnuts, which is also a time when Jasmin would also shovel up all the snow along the pathway to build big beautiful snowmen [thanks for the photos Amir].

Born in Ljubljana in the 1970s, of Bosnian parents, the brothers followed their father into the fruit and veg trade. He'd started supplying restaurants, the first business of its kind in post-independence Slovenia. They worked for him for a short while and have even named their shop after his business, Jagoda. Which translates as 'strawberry', the first spring fruit and is a metaphor for a new (political) beginning. Amir says there's not as much money in selling fruit & veg these days compared to the 90s, stating he earns in one month what his father would earn in 3 days. He adds most people don't know the shop is called Jagoda, the sign hanging on the door is often out of sight when the store is open.

Jagoda is open 12 hours a day from 7-7, and closed Saturday afternoon and Sunday. The brothers take the whole of August off. When asked what it was like when the brothers took their August vacation, a customer jokingly said it's like having his legs chopped off.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Dušanka Sulejmalli, "Laura", Ljubljana

Known to her familiars as 'Duška', in 1991 she opened her ladies fashion boutique, named after her daughter Laura - an unusual name for Slovenia. Her shop is tucked into one corner of a forecourt of an ex-petrol station - dominated by a concrete umbrella structure - off the arterial road to Kranj. From here, she dresses Ljubljana's women in imported Italian fashions, many of whom have been loyal customers since the shop opened.

Originally from Serbia but resident in Slovenia for some 30 years, Duška learnt her trade as a travelling saleswoman for a clothing company serving all of former-Yugoslavia.

She provides a personalised styling service that aims to dress her customers well whatever the occasion, whilst trying to encourage their adventurous side: a philosophy which seems to be working well. On our first visit, we mistook a customer's purchase of a raw silk suit combining a beige jacket printed with a cascade of pink flowers and bright fuscia trousers, as an outfit for a special occasion, for a child’s graduation, birthday, or wedding. "No, it's for the office," we were told.

She buys all her stock from factory showrooms near Milan, Italy. She goes monthly, or more often if stock is getting low. With her customers’ size and shape in mind, she'll choose clothes she knows will suit them. They in turn, trust her to make them look good. On returning from Italy she will ring up certain customers and invite them to the shop to try on what she’s bought for them. She says in the future she may buy wholesale from Serbia, as the prices are better, yet the clothes are still very stylish.

Duška regularly goes for coffee with her customers, who include judges and dentists who will visit every season to update their wardrobe to retired ladies who buy every now and again. If she’s not seen a certain customer for a while, she’ll call them to see how they are. All are attracted by a range of clothes not available elsewhere in Slovenia and as such a woman dressed by Duška is more often than not dressed 'individually'.

One particular woman brought several friends but she had first choice of what to buy and then her friends weren’t allowed to buy the same items. Others keep their visits to the boutique secret as they don’t want anyone else to be wearing the same clothes as them. Some will even lie and, if asked, say they got their clothes in Italy or Germany, in order to stop people finding out where they buy their clothes.

Complementary silk scarves are gifted to buyers of certain outfits, which Duška will slip into the bag. She also gives away around 400 umbrellas a year, as an accessory or Christmas gift. She’ll also mark a special customer’s major birthday (like 50th or 60th) with a gift.

With Duska's help, we photographed and interviewed some of her most ardent customers about the role the shop has played in their lives.

Duska also has a son who runs a second hand car dealership based in the huge BTC shopping zone on the north-east outskirts of the city.

Friday, 1 May 2009

Alen Kardas, Hapy Days Fish Seller, Kras

"Yes, I choose the music" said Alen when asked about the folk songs playing from the loudspeaker atop his refrigerated van, “though they need to be Slovene".

We travelled to meet Alen in the small market square of Komen, a village in Kras, a rural region about an hours drive east of Ljubljana and close to the Italian border. He works for a family business called Hapy Days that runs a small fleet of vans across the region. We learnt that these songs are important for people to retain a sense of the region's identity, given the proximity to Italy and even more so now with the EU accession in 2007. In a twist of irony, the fresh fish he sells are from the wholesale market across the border in Trieste.

He sells here each Saturday from 8am-12.30pm and on Tuesdays from 9-10am. Otherwise he criss-crosses the region, driving to villages in the Vremska or Vipavska Valley, or visiting several along the route from Divača to Sežana; Tomačevica, Mali Doli, Kobjeglava, Tupelče, Hruševica, Štanjel. He sticks to a regular timetable so customers know when to expect to hear his music, and takes Sunday and Monday off.

He told us he does house calls too, and reckons on some days he slides the van door open and shut 200 times. Sometimes for feuding neighbours, he needs to park outside one house, then drive the 20 metres or so to the neighbour’s house, as neither will buy from outside their enemy’s gate – a situation he said that’s typically Slovene.

Alen knows his fish, and so when asked, advises customers how best to store or cook bass, mackerel, etc., Though he thinks a big part of his job is to make customers smile, particularly those elderly customers who are isolated or now live alone. He adds the elderly particularly like to buy sardines as they are cheap and nutritious, ideal if you are living on a basic pension.

Customers now know him, and some call his mobile to order or reserve a type, or quantity of fish they may need for a party or BBQ. He’ll check if he can supply, then call back to say yes or no.
We asked his customers about the family tree of their purchase, who would eat the fish they had bought? We were surprised with the variety of our small sample. From a famous Slovene actor, a local designer whose father designed the Slovene Euro coin, a friend of our guide, to children running an errand for their parents, and individuals buying for themselves, their spouses and their families. In a further cross-border twist, people even came from Italy to buy from him because Hapy Days prices are lower.

Hapy Days was started in 1990 by Joze who then bought direct from Croatian fishermen to sell in Komen from the back of his Renault 4. Joze’s wife, Wilma, and daughter Janja take care of the accounts. At 4.30am every morning, Joze arrives at the Trieste fish market and stocks up 4 of the 6 vans they operate – 2 don’t run at present as they are short-staffed. Their son, Tomaz drives one van and Janja’s husband Damir drives another. Employees, Ego and Alen drive the other two. Each is responsible for a different route through Kras.

At the end of each day the vans return to base. Each driver/seller weighs the fish left, refrigerates the good stuff and tells Joze what’s needed for the next day. Any fish not fresh enough to go back on the van is filleted by Damir’s mother and father. These fillets are then sold to a local restaurant, ensuring what is being sold in the vans is always fresh and top quality.

Each day the drivers wash the inside of their vans, with the outside washed weekly on a Saturday afternoon. Alen says it’s hard work and long hours so the business struggles to recruit and retain staff. He’s looking to start a family, but figures his work at the moment makes it difficult to find a girl and settle down.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Elena & Costica, Alexandru neighbourhood, Iaşi

During Communist times, Elena and Costica worked in a textile factory. Elena did the bookkeeping and Costica supervised the machinery. Post-1989, the textile market dropped off and the factory restructured. At this point, they started their own business and have been going for about 15 years.

Elena has strong opinions about respecting her customers. She provides good quality, branded products, within their sell-by dates, at reasonable prices to residents of the Minerva Esplanada in the Alexandru neighbourhood of Iaşi. Elena buys her goods from local wholesale centres called Siraj and Metro, which operate a card-based membership scheme similar to the UK’s Makro. She’s got a lock-up nearby to store what doesn’t fit in the kiosk. Many customers are elderly and can’t get to the larger supermarkets so need to shop locally.

The kiosk sells a little bit of everything – daily items such as cigarettes, soft drinks, toiletries as well as items you might perhaps run out of, like cornflour (an ingredient for mămăliga, one of Romania’s staple foods – a delicious mix of corn meal, often served with sheep’s cheese and sour cream), oil, rice, coffee, nappies, hosiery, batteries and make-up. If a customer asks Elena to get something particular, for example men’s vests, she will do her best to buy it for them.

Elena has strong relationships with her customers. A few are ex-colleagues or family friends. Many she has known for years, such as 17-year old Cătalină who she saw as a baby, used to sell sweets to as a child, and now sells hair dye to as a teenager. Many customers buy from her daily, such as Constantin who buys a pack of Monte Carlo cigarettes each day. Others, such as 5-year old Matei just pop in to see the dog and maybe get his Mum to buy a pack of puffed corn.

Elena and Costica share the workload, taking turns to sit in their chilly kiosk at street level or to warm up in their cosy flat, five storeys above. They intend to open over Christmas and the New Year. As their only son is working in the UK, and will visit them at Easter, they’ll capitalise on the festive season and stay open while surrounding shops are closed. 

We met Elena on our first day in Iasi, created a photo album of her and her customers, and had dinner with her and her friends on our last night.

Maria & Ion Ocâ's dairy, Iaşi

Maria’s grandparents lived in this house, before she and her husband Ion took over the smallholding, in a countryside village about 15 minutes drive from Iaşi.

Maria has delivered handmade cheese, cream and occasionally milk to nine customers’ homes in the Tataraşi, every 10 days or so, for the past 40 years. Some of the older people died and now she delivers to their descendants. She delivered these products throughout the communist era, outside the state’s rationing system of the 1980s: a small-scale, subsistence ‘black market’.

Maria learnt to make cheese from her grandmother, who also used to make butter. “She’d put the butter on a plate and make it round like a haystack and then take the spoon and make all sorts of patterns. People bought it by the 100gms. Both my mother and my grandmother used to go market. And I used to go with them to the market. Now I sell at the market. I sell whatever we have, beans, corn, in summer we sell vegetables from the garden. In the market, customers look at the way we look, how clean our hands are, how clean our apron is, what the basket looks like, how white the cheesecloth is. They look and then they choose whom to buy from.”

Some years Maria sells wine, but this year she’s putting it aside as her son is getting married this coming summer. They sell homemade plum brandy. They have various fowl, goats, sheep, cows, horses, honeybees and a dappled, snorting pig, which is being fattened up for Christmas.

We were talking in Maria’s back room of her house, when she flung open the doors of a cupboard to reveal her cheese-to-be. Each day she milks the cows and stores the milk in these earthenware jars. The jars were made by Roma pottery makers, who used to come around and sell at the door, but they don’t come anymore, so when Maria breaks a pot, she can’t replace it.

“If both shelves are full of pots, then I know I have enough for all of my customers. It takes about a week or ten days to fill up both shelves. The cream rises to the top. And then it has to sit and curdle because you can’t put fresh milk into cheese. The milk curdles and you separate that out and make the cheese with it. You warm it up on the stove and you put it in cheesecloth and leave it to strain, leave it dripping until it is dense.”

Titi's Kiosk, Copou, Iaşi

For the last ten years, Titi (short for Constantin) has framed the world, his customers and his commerce through the window of his kiosk on the busy Carol I Blvd, surrounded by the university buildings of the Copou neighbourhood of Iaşi. Watching taxi drivers jostle for parking spaces and streams of students flood by, he sells newspapers, magazines, stationery, tissues and other convenience items.

Some university professors have been customers for many years. They have Titi’s mobile number and might ring, even quite late at night if they’ve just seen a book or magazine ad on the telly, to ask him to keep a particular publication aside for them the next morning, which Titi stows away on the shelf below the counter or the shelf above the window.

The outside of the kiosk is covered in a scaly skin of magazines, with the semi-dark interior lit by artificial light. An electric heater keeps Titi and his wife Elena warm in the bitter cold of winter, when temperatures can drop too -15 C. On chilly days, the window is opened only when customers approach. Elena opens the kiosk at 6am every morning. Titi takes over at about 10.30 and works through to around 9 at night, earlier at weekends or during the college holidays. Last year, they took their first break in nine years, a month-long road trip around the mountains of Romania with their son and his fiancée.

As most kiosks in Iaşi have now been consolidated into companies, sometimes Titi himself wonders how he’s managed to stay independent. Mainly due to his active lobbying of City Hall, he’s been successful in renewing the 6-month lease of his 3m x 1.5m pavement pitch. City Hall has decreed that all kiosks must conform to a standard design so in March 2009, Titi and Elena’s existing kiosk will be transported to his back garden and used to store tools. In its place, they’ll install a new double-glazed design, which they have commissioned to conform to planning regulations.

Titi’s previous career was as an electrical engineer on the railways. After restructuring, he was offered early retirement aged 50.