Saying farewell to a neighborhood friend

Orhan Arpinar’s Xerxes Market is closing, but he’s the one the community is going to miss

ARMATAGE — It’s a sunny Monday afternoon as Orhan Arpinar shuffles about his shop, greeting customers who stop in for lottery tickets, cigarettes and other odds and ends, or just to say hello.  

He’s cheerful as always, calling customers by name and asking them in his Turkish accent about various aspects of their lives that he’s come to know during the past 13 years at the helm of Xerxes Market at 56th Street and Xerxes Avenue. But today he’s also sharing some bad news. At the end of the month, he’s closing the store.

“The business has been very slow for the past couple, three years,” Arpinar said, sitting at a wooden table beside his storefront windows. “Every day is getting worse and worse. Also, my lease agreement came up and the landlord wanted to raise and I said I better leave, otherwise it’s going to be even worse, I feel, next year.”

Regular customers and friends of Arpinar have taken the news hard, quickly organizing farewell parties and a fundraising effort to help the shopkeeper get by before finding a new job. Where that job will be is unclear to Arpinar and it’s his biggest worry aside from paying the mortgage on his home, which is also in the neighborhood.

“It’s scary,” he said. “I mean, I have to solve the problems here and then start the very first day to go look for a job — anything.”

Though he’s been a bit embarrassed to accept donations from customers since word spread of his closing in late August, he does occasionally pull out a coffee container marked “Xerxes Funds” from behind the counter. Loyal customer and lifelong Armatage resident Dan Van Every gave him the canister as part of a larger fundraising effort he launched at friendsoforhan.blogspot.com.

“It’s not to save the market. We’re past that,” Van Every said. “… I think he’s given a lot to the neighborhood, just in his personality, and I thought the neighborhood could, just little by little, give back to him.”

Sharon Spartz, a Xerxes Market customer who also sells her homemade cookies at the store, has already started organizing a going away party there, set for 5–7 p.m. Sept. 26.

“We basically wanted to say goodbye to Orhan,” Spartz said. “It’s a real big loss for the community.”

Ken Wills, owner of Café Vin next door, said he’s planning to throw a party for Arpinar at the restaurant next month.  

Many other customers have been thinking about how to help Arpinar, who was recognized by the community a couple years ago with an award from the Sullivan Ballou Foundation, which honors individuals who act from the heart.

Customer Jim Lindsay, who stops by the market every day on his way to work, said he split a lottery ticket with Orhan, hoping for a big win that could save the store.

“I moved here three years ago in July; I came from out east,” Lindsay said. “It was a tough adjustment for my wife and myself. It was a new town, a new city, a new job and a new community. The guy that made me smile every day when I came in here was Orhan. He made me feel welcome to the neighborhood and that’s why I keep coming back.”

When Customer Alex Alarcon heard the shop was closing, he offered Arpinar a job with his company, which sells embroidery equipment.

But Arpinar was still undecided on his next career move. He said he could work in a convenience store — as long as it wasn’t his competitor Holiday across the street — but he doesn’t have the funds to start something new.

Plus, he said, running a small independent shop is tough these days. About four years ago, he had several employees. He cut those positions to save money and has since worked solo from 7 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., seven days a week.

The change wasn’t enough to combat continually slowing business. Arpinar started ordering fewer items and the shelves gradually thinned out.  

Then last year, shoplifters started taking what little he did have. Customer Brian Emerson began dropping off a Rottweiler and Great Dane mix named Java to help with security, but the store’s fate was obvious.

A recent example, Arpinar said, was that it took him seven months to sell a single package of Oreos. When customers do shop for groceries at the store, they spend less and usually buy the essentials, he said.  

He said he hopes to sell everything in the store before the month is over. He planned to make an effort to do that at the Sept. 26 party.

Though losing the store is difficult for him, Arpinar said losing the daily interaction with his friends will be the hardest part of closing.

“I always tell people I didn’t make any money here, but I made a lot of great friends and this is my profit,” he said. “I’ll never forget the people who gave me their friendship and their support. It’s much more important than the money.”

Reach Jake Weyer at 436-4367 or [email protected]