A chef prepares food at a restaurant in Istanbul, Turkey, June 17, 2022.
by Zeynep Cermen
ISTANBUL, June 20 (Xinhua) -- Ahmet Saymadi, a man in his 40s, has been running a small meyhane, a traditional Turkish tavern, for the last three years in Istanbul's bustling Istiklal Avenue area which is filled with restaurants, cafes, and bars.
However, his business has been severely hit in the past two years, first by the COVID-19 restrictions and then the huge economic crisis that has "smashed everything" even as the pandemic starts to slow down.
"In 2019, at least, the economy had a balance. Life was hard, but there was some stability in prices," he told Xinhua in a recent interview. "But now, we are trying to do business in an environment where we cannot foresee anything."
One of his main concerns is the ever-increasing energy bills as his restaurant uses natural gas for cooking and heating, and electrical heaters during winter time.
In contrast to an average of 1,500 Turkish liras (86.5 U.S. dollars) per month Saymadi paid for electricity in the summer months of 2020, his monthly bill now has surged to 6,000 liras.
As for natural gas, the bills were about 300-500 liras per month in 2020, and now he has to pay around 1,000 to 1,200 liras without taking into account the heating in winter.
The number of his regulars has also seen a sharp decline over the last couple of months, while the remaining ones mostly have slashed their orders.
With the soaring gas prices, people in Istanbul don't have many alternatives as all buildings in the city center are equipped with natural gas infrastructure, according to Saymadi.
You would have to change your neighborhood if you want to move to an apartment equipped with a stove instead of natural gas, which is too costly given the rising rents and transport expenses, he explained.
The Turkish businessman said he now hears people talking more and more about "house and office sharing," a concept that has become popular in Istanbul to better cope with the high cost of living.
"While one person can easily afford the rent and all other expenses of an apartment in 2019, now it takes three people combined to pay the bills," he said, adding several of his friends have already started to share their apartments or move to their parents' houses.
Saymadi said his business bills, covering the rent, natural gas and electricity, could surge to 50,000 liras next year, which compels him to consider even the option of merging with another business to reduce the burden.
"Until last year, people used to talk politics at our raki tables. Now the economy is talked about more than politics. Everyone is talking about how to get along," he said.
According to Mustafa Sonmez, an economist and writer, "Turkey has a structural problem of energy dependency," which is not easy to be changed in the short term.
"The price hikes in electricity and natural gas in residences have seriously increased consumer inflation, a fact that has forced many to seek alternative living styles," Sonmez said.
The annual inflation in Turkey saw a 24-year high of 73.5 percent in May.
Starting June, natural gas prices were hiked by 30 percent for households, 16.3 percent for electricity production, and 10.2 percent for industry while the electricity prices went up by 15 percent for households and 25 percent for industry.
"We are not aware of this bill because we do not use a heater at home at the moment, but when it is turned on in November, a very terrible natural gas bill will be presented before everyone," warned Sonmez. ■
Ahmet Saymadi is seen at his small meyhane, a traditional Turkish tavern, in Istanbul, Turkey, June 17, 2022.
Ahmet Saymadi speaks during an interview with Xinhua in Istanbul, Turkey, June 17, 2022.
Ahmet Saymadi (R) talks with a staff member at his small meyhane, a traditional Turkish tavern, in Istanbul, Turkey, June 17, 2022.
A staff member prepares Turkish tea at a small meyhane, a traditional Turkish tavern, in Istanbul, Turkey, June 17, 2022.