While traveling to Turkey, Vural and Jackie Oktay noticed a variety of handmade Turkish items, which they thought would charm visitors to their well-loved restaurant, the Tuckerbox. Eventually, they opened a store across the street from the Turkish-style restaurant in downtown White River Junction. Little Istanbul offers a large variety of spices and handcrafted items.
Of all the merchandise, Jackie Oktay’s favorite items are the kilim purses and handbags. Leatherworkers craft the bags from heirloom kilim rugs, traditionally woven by women in anticipation of their wedding. After being damaged by moths, mice or overuse, some rugs are recycled into handbags or shoes. “You are wearing history on your shoulder,” Jackie says. The purse connects the owner to the woman who wove the fabric 50 to 60 years ago.
Kilim handbags are not the only items in Little Istanbul with a story. The next shelf features leather bags and wallets handcrafted near Istanbul. Created mostly by women who trained in leather craft, the purses display intricate designs. Some of the purses feature fanciful pictures of mermaids while others show part of the Piri Reis map – one of the oldest still existing maps of the Americas. The women pour their time and attention into creating these purses and wallets.
“People put their love in them,” Vural Oktay says, “It’s rare to see these things in modern times.”