Nazim Hikmet Erkan’s antique bookstore on Heybeliada, an island home to 5,000 people, delves into the pages of the past.
“It requires an act of courage,” says Erkan, a bearded, middle-aged antiques dealer, sitting in an armchair outside his shop.
Half a decade ago, Erkan – impressed by the lifestyle, people and architecture of Istanbul’s second largest island – finally moved to Heybeliada and decided to open a shop, as his compatriots islanders insisted they needed a bookstore.
Erkan said that with the store he also aimed to “connect people with their story”.
Heybeliada is officially part of the Princes’ Islands archipelago. It has been home to several local minorities and has become a must-see tourist destination for Turkish and international tourists.
A 40-minute ferry ride from the shores of the Bosphorus, Heybeliada has beaches, a forest, cycling and walking paths, parks and picturesque neighborhoods adorned with many kinds of flowers.
Erkan studied management at Samsun 19 Mayis University before moving to Istanbul in the early 2000s. Originally from the Black Sea region of Turkey, he worked in the textile industry before turning to filmmaking. documentary films, where he assisted the director of photography.
“As the famous saying goes, ‘Istanbul’s rocks and soil are made of gold’, so I came looking for opportunities… People from Anatolia have been coming here for centuries for this reason,” said Erkan said as he was interrupted by a passerby.
“It’s a great place! How nice! The best place on the island with music, books, wind and shade,” the lady says, seeming to know Erkan, who nods. Heybeli Sahaf (Heybeli Antique Bookstore), with its motto “Zaman Satan Dükkan”, which means “the shop that sells time”, is located at a vital crossroads of tracks on the island. Most visitors to the island stumble upon the bookstore, and many have “interesting questions” after coming across the old photos being sold of Istanbul’s sights and other famous places and personalities.
“Sometimes young people are surprised to see photos and they ask what this thing is and how the photos were produced,” Erkan told Anadolu Agency (AA), noting that the internet has changed the way people see life.
“Now, instead of taking and printing photos, people are clicking photos with smartphones and saving them to memory cards for times to come.”
Old cassette tapes, typewriters, and decades-old newspapers and magazines adorn the tables around the shop.
“Researchers contact me sometimes, and often they manage to find the material they need for their work,” Erkan said, stressing the importance of preserving history and historical pieces in this rapidly changing world.
After moving to Heybeliada in 2014, the shop where he now sells his books caught Erkan’s eye.
“It occurred to me that I had found the place of my dreams, and one day, when I heard that the tenant was leaving the shop, I decided to rent it, and that’s as well as I began the journey of the bookstore on this beautiful island”, he says.
Before moving to the island, Erkan ran an old bookstore in Istanbul’s historic Taksim district. After opening Heybeli Sahaf in mid-2016, he closed his shop in Taksim a year later to focus on the island bookstore.
Erkan recalled the day he assisted his director while they filmed an old antique dealer named Oktay, who had an antique bookstore in Taksim that was usually full of international visitors to Istanbul.
“He had a special life story, and his life and his work influenced me, and then we became friends,” Erkan said. During his university years in the Black Sea region of Turkey, Erkan said he was very interested in books and used to sell books after class hours. “I left the cinema and joined an antique shop that belonged to Oktay’s partner and worked there for three years as an apprentice,” he said. Three years were enough for him to learn the trade of antique dealer, and Oktay saw it.
“He encouraged me to start my antique bookstore and thus began the journey of my Taksim shop,” he said.
As visitors pass by and some pick up books, Erkan shares that the store offers books in more than a dozen languages. Visitors from mainland Istanbul, other provinces of Turkey and other countries are regular shop customers.
“Everyone called me crazy when I opened this bookstore on this island, (but) it turned out to be an act of courage,” Erkan said. Heybeli Sahaf is currently updating its portal for online orders. His social media account has earned him a huge following and customers.
“This bookstore has helped show that this island is also valuable for its history, culture and architecture,” he added. Heybeli Sahaf mostly buys old books, he says.
“I buy old books from people who move to other places or countries, or those who pass away, leaving their books and libraries to their loved ones,” he said. At a glance inside the shop you will see many books in Turkish, Greek, French, English, German and Italian and some in other languages as well as Ottoman books.
There is a photo gallery on the life and times of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey, and a set of books on the history of the island while booklets on Islamic economics occupy the shelves. It also has dictionaries of languages including Urdu, Mongolian and Turkish dialects such as Chagatai.
“Most of the time people search for novels and history or philosophy books,” Erkan said.
He added that many people contact Heybeli Sahaf to obtain first edition copies of books or copies signed by their authors.
“Heybeli Sahaf is now a part of someone’s life… It’s become something very personal. We just don’t buy and sell books,” he said, citing an incident where an old man who sold all his books to her since he moved to another town later became an important figure in “a relationship like that of father and son”.
“I was buying books from someone from another part of Istanbul.
“When I went to bring books from his house, first he couldn’t even open the door, then I found him in a very bad situation… Apparently he had a health problem.”
“I called my friends who had put me in touch with him to buy the books. We arranged to bring him to the island and monitored his condition together. He underwent surgery and is now recovering. He has become our neighbor on the island,” Erkan said.
It happened about nine months ago. He sold his library “to start a new life”.
“My friends and I became a reason for him to start a new life and our relationship matured like father and son,” he said. Erkan said Heybeli Sahaf has become a place of “time transition”.
“We became a reason for many to link them to the story,” he said, citing numerous instances where people thanked him for providing the material they came for.
Old newspapers and magazines “give a feeling and yearning for nostalgia,” he said.
Heybeli Sahaf also has “a solid and serious collection on philosophy and cinema”.
“We are building a strong online database to be able to serve customers through our website. We used to run the business online in the past and now we are updating the portal in the coming months,” said Erkan said.
He was inspired by the book written by Fıstık Ahmet Tanrıverdi, an author who runs a restaurant in Büyükada, one of the neighboring islands.
Handing over a hard copy of Tanriverdi’s book, “Zaman Satan Dükkan,” Erkan said, “The kind of work we do at Heybeli Sahaf is archaeological; our real job is to dive into what is not available on the market. “
“We dig into the things people are looking for and connect people with their needs…It’s like a bridge between something old that’s barely sold, that you think is lost, and the person looking for that thing.
“We just get a commission for being that bridge,” Erkan said. “I believe that antique dealers and their books have very important places for the culture of each country.”