By Deniz Koç
SALT Beyoglu 4. Kat Istiklal Caddesi 136
Beyoglu 34430 Istanbul Turkey
“A bookstore with a distinctive style of its own, located in Pera, Istanbul on İstiklâl Street, no. 389. A warehouse established in September 1994 containing choice books. An archive where books are displayed & accessible to all. A town square, the gathering point not only of those who look & listen but of those who see & hear as well. A library where one goes not only for buying books but also to search for them & ask about them & browse around, sniffing the pages of & encountering, discovering & even writing books.”
Anyone who has been to İstiklal Street in Beyoglu, Istanbul, for a stroll in recent years can recall that long stretch of a crowded pedestrian street starting from Taksim Square and running to Tünel. I am still baffled by the rapid transformation of this space. Just a decade ago, the crowds, busy shops, restaurants, and cafés ended halfway down the street; from Galatasaray Lycée toward Tünel it was relatively quiet and calm. One of my favorite bookstores, Robinson Crusoe 389, was established in this quiet spot, right beside the vibrant central district yet far from the bustle. Since 1994, the year the bookstore opened its doors, much has changed, including the street number that gave the place its name. 389 became 195, but the name on the sign remained the same.
Robinson Crusoe 389 was conceived as a “warehouse,” a “town square,” and a “library” by its architect, the famed and award-winning Han Tümertekin. The above quotation appears on the brown paper bag that became the store’s trademark, along with the black sticker bearing its logo, which was designed by eminent graphic artist Bülent Erkmen.
From the very beginning, the bookstore’s founders were attentive to detail, and refused to stock bestsellers or school stationary or toys. They would order any book you wished to read, which was extraordinarily wonderful at a time when people had little access to the online bookstores abroad, and when e-books were practically non-existent. The store became an oasis where the smell of books prevailed.
I have been confused as to which tense I should use when writing about Robinson, past or present. Because the street number of this small store with “books along the walls” has changed once again, and this time, so has the space in which it resides. The very day I was asked to write about my favorite bookstore, I learned that the store was about to close its doors due to unreasonable rent increases in the area. The recent urban redevelopment and gentrification are forcing individual establishments to either shut down or move out. On June 15, the contents of the bookstore were moved from its previous location, passed from hand to hand by a human chain of regular customers to the fourth floor of SALT Beyoglu at 136 on İstiklal Street—an important and prestigious modern art gallery founded by one of the biggest banking companies in Turkey. Presumably only chain stores of global brands or culture and arts establishments sponsored by large companies will survive this transformation.
This short account reflects a small part of a tale of urban redevelopment that is being carried out across the country despite the protests of a considerable number of citizens. Many independent establishments, large and small, have already vanished from the İstiklal scene. The authorities are seeking ways to transform Taksim’s Gezi Park into a shopping mall, an attempt that last year triggered many riots across the country. Historic cinemas are being torn down to be reinstalled on the top floors of big shopping malls to serve the culture of consumption. And in a way, Robinson Crusoe 389 has become an artifact in a museum, hidden away from sight at street level, not to be popped into spontaneously when passing by; an inaccessible object of art that may even be intimidating for some.
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