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The Ancient Bazaar Experience

    Throughout history, for all civilizations, a central focus of human activity has been visiting the local bazaar. The Grand Bazaar (Kapali Çarsi)  in Istanbul, Turkey; was built in the 15th century, and remains the oldest covered market in the world. It covers an area greater than 54 square meters, and continues to rank as one of the world's biggest covered markets. One of the appeals of bazaars has been it is not only a market place but also a social gathering location for friends to meet and discuss the latest topics, be it solving the world's problems on hunger, or talking about the newest arrival to the family.

    Today there is concern that the actual physical locations of bazaars will fade as we move more to internet based purchasing. Let's stop and think this through. Is the purpose of a bazaar to be a collection of vendors and buyers or is there a more fundamental meaning to the reason bazaars have lasted many centuries and will the concept continue to be? My answer is yes and here's why.

  Think of the times you are on vacation, or visiting friends in far away places. What is unique and memorable for you? If you have a guest then what do you think of doing for entertainment? Do you want to show your guest the uniqueness of your town or city and how do you do that? It's extremely rare to take a friend to the local big box store, or mass merchandiser, or even to sit in front of the computer "shopping for the latest or best prices". Most people want to take their guests to some place uniquely different, yet memorable, and not found elsewhere. Historically what has attracted people, and continues to do so, is bazaar type settings.

   It's fun visiting a unique shopping location where clouds of spice aromas envelope the area and entice you with spicy smells of nutmeg, cloves, fresh cookies baking, or roasting chestnuts on a cold, wintry day. How about seeing a display of locally grown bright, colorful fresh irresistible fruits such as ruby-seeded pomegranates,peaches, prunes, fresh picked peaches, or ripe fragrant melons and loupes? Some local markets may feature vendors of poultry offering exotics like pheasants, ducks, geese, turkeys or quail. Each area has uniqueness in venison which can be deer, buffalo, or in the Southern U.S., snapping turtle.

   Often bazaar type areas feature craftspeople in such things as glass blowing, artists creating on canvas or other mediums, sculptors, and jewelers or metalsmithing. The visitor may not buy but can see the difficulty in creating art or crafts, often talking with the craftspeople as the process progresses to the final product. Throughout history one of the common crafters were basket weavers who would take plant material, dry it, and then from the reeds create.

   Functional items for use but also done decoratively. It is that one of a kind, non mass produced craft, that so many long for. There is a connect between the customer, the item and the crafter that one can not find where goods were stamped, or molded, in machines producing exact look a likes 100,000 items a day. People want to observe the process but in a warm, rich pleasant environment. In most bazaars there usually develops some form of public entertainment so if the participant is not there to buy then the free entertainment provides a reason for coming and a social outlet.

   It's that "different" aspect that is found in local communities that makes for the rich experiences of traveling and socialization. The ubiquity of upbeat conversations, friendly greetings and loud bargaining add to the overall fun of the experience.

   Bazaars do not attract shoppers only, but historically is an area of socialization around booths, vendors, foods, entertainment, education and a social gathering space. The future of successful shopping destinations will depend upon remembering the concepts of what a customer is looking for, not what is offered. The survivors will be those new retail enterprises that take advantage of old concepts and make shopping fun again.