Kadıköy Sahafları: Dazzling world of 2nd hand books that defy time

Web Desk

Let Kadıköy bookstores be your escape from the ordinary, as the magic of secondhand books enthralls book lovers at its two-floor passages, a favorite spot for those seeking the melancholic charm of used books, plaques and old posters

For decades, Kadıköy’s Akmar Passage was and stayed one of the favorite spots of Istanbulites’ bookworms and of all those random passengers seeking to uncover the melancholic magic of secondhand books’ world, plaques, old posters; in short of all those dreaming about past centuries and rare books entitled to some other generations, the time that is left behind.

When I got the idea to write about “sahaflar,” a common word used for the small stores and places where used books are usually sold, I was planning on revisiting other famous locations in culturally rich Istanbul, such as “Beyazıt Sahaflar” that dates back to famous traveler Evliya Çelebi or the Beşiktaş Çarşı where many nice book selling spots are located as well. Yet, last weekend I spent a quality one and half hours wandering through a two-floor passage in Anatolian Kadıköy dıstrict, roaming from store to store, going through titles and asking a little about sellers’ experiences, time that they’ve spent there, books they mostly offer. Therefore, I decided to share my journey, thoughts, and recommendations briefly by describing what caught my eye in Akmar Passage.

I remember visiting this place years back when I was looking for “Introduction to Economics” books to alleviate the burden I felt when I got to know I will have to study these subjects in Turkish – which I did not know well at the time. A few Turkish friends suggested visiting this unknown place then, so I followed the advice and decided to go. Unconfident, I let the map lead me to down to the entrance of a separate world, connected only with two short staircases, but the world that talks history, and for which I can now deliberately say – of the world that defies time. It was a bit dark and crowded, with books in piles laid all over the narrow gray floor. I was stunned by the sight, but I enjoyed the bustle. I’ve seen many youngsters going through the pages of random books, dictionaries and materials for exams, and I just kept moving through the flow. Now years later, I encountered the same unchanged place, busy as a beehive, full of the human spirit, and that still fascinates me. Before going, I still kept in mind the name “Image Sahaf,” but this time, I discovered two new stores and encountered two extremely polite men ready to delve into the farthest corners and display dozens of books on topics I looked for.

A view from Kadıköy's secondhand bookstore passage, Istanbul, Türkiye, Jan. 22, 2023. (Photo by Amina Ali)
A view from Kadıköy’s secondhand bookstore passage, Istanbul, Türkiye, Jan. 22, 2023. (Photo by Amina Ali)
‘Moda Bookstore’

Rushing from the Çarşı bus stop, all the way through Mühürdar Street, filled with people and their cheerful children enjoying the fresh air on the first days of midterm break, soon I found myself at the entrance of passage that detaches the fantastic oasis of the titles with brownish covers, books in German, Latin, Spanish, Turkish and French from the ordinary day in one of the most visited locations in Istanbul on the weekend. On my right side, I’ve seen a couple talking to a man in his mid-50s, asking for the last edition of some book related to banking.

At first, I ignored the name of the store; I was only glimpsing through the titles partitioned between hundreds of white shelves on the right wall. Some of them selling titles in the last months were distributed on the top shelves, as usual. Still, behind the counter especially, among the stacks reaching to the top of the ceiling, I could see many Russian classic editions, collections of authors privileged among newer generations, many thick English dictionaries, etc. After the couple left, I asked the man I supposed was the owner about a history book I’d been looking for months. The man, who delighted me with positivity, told me has been working in the passage for the last 20 years, although he just moved to the corner spot a few months ago. He praised their assortment and agreed with me that it’s way easier to find many titles within the magnificent two-floor storage in Caferağa than in traditional, modern-style bookstores across the city.

Just a few minutes further on, when I was already in the middle of the passage, I realized I forgot to ask for his name since we had a constructive chat, and I was astonished that he had time to spare for extra talk, besides only showcasing the books I asked for. He also told me that he used to visit fairs all around Türkiye back in the day, to present the concept of secondhand stores to high schools students while he tried to construct the vision that they could rely on these types of places in case one day they would come to study at metropolis as extensive as Istanbul. Once he handed me my book, I mentioned I might write an article about the passage … He smiled and approved it, saying he would love to read it, even if it would be in English. Hence, I had to suggest “Moda Bookstore” as the primary location in this article. We talked a bit more about book prices in the market in general, and he expressed that they still try their best to keep them moderate as in previous years, noting that students still recognize this, and that’s why they top the list of actual buyers.

As I made my way further through the crowd, I noticed an elderly grandfather with a cane and without glasses trying to make out what was written on specific covers, and groups of children with their parents. Somehow it seemed to me that this well-known passage always “lives” like this, crowded and full, full of curious people consistently seeking knowledge. I noticed many random English titles that I often used to encounter while scrolling through social media, and I kept thinking – “Well this place certainly has all types of books!” On the left side, in the middle of the upper floor, one or two stores were filled with German classics; one had a great choice of children and picture books in various languages, and once again the enormous satisfaction captured my being for the simple fact that living in Istanbul does offer much in every aspect. At at least two or three of the stores, I’ve seen beautiful old editions of Ernest Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea,” Umberto Eco’s collections which belonged to some “other era,” cute editions of “The Little Prince” and well, many other captivating titles.

Various second hand books for sale, Istanbul, Türkiye, April 20, 2018. (Shutterstock Photo)
Various second hand books for sale, Istanbul, Türkiye, April 20, 2018. (Shutterstock Photo)

Moving on, the thing that caught my attention was the names of stores and I directly started translating them into English, while unconsciously starting to form perceptions and associations based on names. Among dozens of stores on both floors, the ones that precisely and deeply intrigued me were “Kaplan, Dolunay and Ada Bookstores.” In addition, I have to underline that the gentle and polite worker from the first one left more than an excellent impression on me.

‘Kaplan Bookstore’

Relatively close to the stairs in the down portion of Akmar, “Kaplan Bookstore” took its place as one of the stores with the highest number of books for entrance and preparatory exams, as they said, but also as an old-fashioned, petite store with a limited area, yet filled up with rich content. What I particularly liked were the posters of old Turkish poets and novelists, that seemed to be glued for years in the same place, as an inseparable part of the shop’s identity talking to book lovers and conveying the message of persistence. The man who worked there was well-mannered and unassertive, letting anyone wonder about it without imposing typical salesperson behaviors. I quickly took some photos without hesitation but unfortunately, I did not buy anything from this store because both my hands were already filled with books I had collected in the first few stores I visited.

Buying books became a kind of habit for me, yet buying them from secondhand bookstores provides a different sort of pleasure. In case, any of you – book lovers find yourself in the colorful streets of Istanbul’s Kadıköy (any time of the day) do not skip paying a visit to the alluring “Akmar Passage.” The friendliness of the staff in most of the stores, and a wide selection of books on any topic will leave you neither empty-handed nor empty-headed.

Courtesy: Dailysabah