Import shop delivers a taste of Istanbul Mary and Nuri Celik show flair for selecting goods, haggling
You are walking along Northwest 23rd Avenue, taking in the sights. On a whim, you follow a path of gaily decorated pillows up a flight of stairs to enter a new shop called Turkish Imports.
As if by magic, you seem to be transported to the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. The Turkish shopkeeper greets you, serves you tea in delicate glasses. Time stands still as you settle down and get comfortable amid the piles of colorful rugs.
It feels so authentic. And it should. Shopkeeper Nuri Celik is a third-generation carpet seller who used to chat over tea with customers from the Four Seasons Hotel, next door to his shop in Istanbul.
His wife and business partner, Mary Celik, is a native Portlander who has been leading tours to Turkey several times a year. She selected much of the shop's merchandise in May during her most recent tour.
Turkish Imports, at 816 N.W. 23rd Ave., opened in July but celebrated its grand opening in early September, after most of the ordered merchandise and carpets had arrived and were put on display.
Now visitors to the shop step through the door to find themselves in a gallery of hand-painted ceramic dishes and tiles. Then they step into an area that is lush with thick, richly colored carpets. In a rear alcove are reproductions of antique hanging lamps, pillow covers and scarves with intricate borders crocheted by Nuri Celik's sister, Feride.
The carpets come from Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. They are nearly all hand-knotted from hand-spun wool. The knots are double knots. Nuri Celik said he wouldn't carry Persian, Chinese or Indian rugs because they are predominantly single knot and aren't as strong. The carpets range in size from 15-by-22 inches up to 10-by-13 feet. Prices, which are negotiable, range from about $100 to $10,000.
Haggling makes the experience
Shopping at Turkish Imports recently were two women who bought carpets that were shipped to their East Coast homes. Both said they had lived in the Middle East and already owned several carpets.
'This store reminds me of walking into rug stores in Turkey and Iran,' remarked Julie Ingels, 57, of Washington, D.C.
Ingels and her friend, Susan Sprachman, 55, of Highland Park, N.J., said they got into the spirit of haggling with Nuri Celik over several glasses of tea, just as they remembered bargaining with shopkeepers in the Middle East.
'Nuri is unabashedly a Turkish bazaar merchant,' Sprachman said. 'He's willing to make deals and make you feel you're having a shopping experience.'
Nuri Celik, from a family of seven children, remembers that his mother and sisters worked daily at the numerous looms that filled the rooms of their home in Kahta, a village in eastern Turkey. They spun the sheep's wool themselves, dyed it with roots and plants and wove it into traditional designs. They worked for months, sometimes years, on each carpet.
The young men in the family helped their father by transporting the carpets by truck and train across Turkey to Istanbul, where the carpets were sold. After several years, Celik changed his mind about his career goal.
'I saw that selling carpets is easier than making carpets,' he said.
His cousin, Cemil Celik, also a carpet seller, is the third partner in Turkish Imports. In Istanbul he owns two hotels and four carpet shops, giving him the contacts he needs to find a good selection of carpets for the Portland store.
Site search came full circle
The Celiks, who wouldn't disclose their ages, met in Istanbul in the late '90s while Mary Celik was leading a tour group. After they married they formed their company. Then all they needed was a place for it.
Nuri Celik said they searched for months to find the best place to open their shop, traveling throughout California. They even checked out Las Vegas but left after one day.
'It was too hot,' he said.
When a space opened up on 23rd Avenue in Mary Celik's hometown, they didn't hesitate.
'It's the best shopping area in Portland,' Mary remarked.
The fact that there already was a carpet store, Babik's, just half a block away, didn't deter them because the two stores offer different kinds of merchandise.
Mary Celik, a former English teacher at Centennial Middle School, said she has received a complete education in carpets from her husband, and she likes to pass that on to customers.
'I love the teaching part,' she said. 'People come in, and they don't know how they're made. Later I tell them, 'Next time you'll get Turkish Rugs 102. You just got 101.' '