June 29, 2022

Meet the Dogans – Proud New Americans To-Be

Izzet (left) and his wife Nuray have packed their store inside and outside

Izzet and Nuray Dogan, man and wife, left beautiful Istanbul, Turkey, to start a new life here. That was a few years ago. I know that sounds vague and there’s a reason. Now they live in Westbrook and work in Old Saybrook. Not an unfamiliar story so far.

But their details are interesting. Amazing. They were good citizens and not fleeing for political reasons. Educated, middle-class, and successful. Not desperate for the next dollar. Close to middle-aged with three children. Not young and unschooled and not sneaking into the U.S.

For 21 months, since March 22, 2010, they have been nurturing a small business right across from Johnny Ad’s Drive-in on Boston Post Road in Old Saybrook. Truly a Mom and Pop business. People drop in also from  neighboring towns…Deep River, Old Lyme, Essex.

They both work at it seven days a week, from 9 to 6. They thought it had a name until I pointed out that it really wasn’t a name. All it says out front basically is Thrift Shop. They’re trying hard but their English is still less than fluent.

They sell all kinds of stuff. Clothes and shoes. Housewares. Books. Furniture. Pictures and decorative items. Jewelry and watches. Tools.  They take in some stuff on consignment. Whatever is sell-able. In a sense, it’s a small, private Goodwill, but operated for profit. Their way of making a living in a strange new land.

In fact, they have two signs up on the front window saying “We Buy Gold.” That takes a bit of expertise, it seems to me.

They arrived with two common problems.  Scant English.  And they knew hardly a soul.

Their store is jammed with thousands of offerings. But the remarkable thing is that everything is so well organized. So clean and tidy. You get the impression every item has been washed, cleaned, dusted. This is not a dump. Lots of heavy labor going on here.

These are hard times, as we all know, and they are struggling. Fewer people are out buying, even for used stuff priced to sell.  But they are catching attention. They caught mine.  Especially because I kept noticing all the odds and ends they put out in front outside, in the fresh air, every day. Dozens of things. Furniture. Clothes. Knickknacks. This attracts quite a few.


They do everything that needs doing. They’re a team

I’ve gotten to know them. The mom, Nuray Dogan, is 47. Attractive. Outgoing. Energetic. Smart. She flew over on July 17,  2000. She came alone with their three children. Just for a two-week vacation.

How come? Her daughter, Damla, now 27, was a student at the prestigious. English School in Istanbul. So was her older son, Cemre, 21. Damla kept begging, “Mama, let’s go to America!” Mama gave in. Younger son San was only two and a half back then.

They flew to a friend’s in Brooklyn. Somehow Nuray became dazzled by America. She made phone calls back to Izzet. She—they—made the huge decision. They would both start anew, together, in America. They had much to settle, at both ends. They would work out the many details and unanswered questions later.

Meanwhile, husband Izzet, who is 50 now, stayed home working.  As a young salesmanselling textiles, he had started a factory making children’s clothes. He was 26 then. It had prospered. He took in his two older brothers. They had 200 employees. He was plenty busy.

She went to the Turkish consulate for advice. They told her: “New York City is not a good choice. Go to a nice small community somewhere.” She knew another friend, in Westbrook.

She says that in one week she found an apartment, got a driver’s license (the fact that she had an international license made it easier), enrolled the children in school, and found the best stores for food and other necessities. She started the immigration process. And before long she was a full-time student at Middlesex Community College.  She wanted to learn English. Learn other things, too.

She says, “At the supermarket at first it was so hard. Even to find bread.”

How to make a living? She wanted to be her own boss. Her difficulty with English was a problem. She had discovered something: yard sales. She began buying stuff at yard sales and holding her own. She discovered the Westbrook Flea Market. Began buying and even selling stuff there.

She got the idea of her own shop someday. She began buying stuff with that in mind– cleaning and washing it, putting it away for the day when.

She got the children started in school. Daughter Damla and older son Cemre graduated from Westbrook High School. Son San is a freshman there.  Daughter Damla went on to get a bachelor’s in psychology from Southern Connecticut State University. Cemre is finishing at Middlesex Community College. He is passionate about music, plays drums and piano, and is finding gigs here and there.

Meanwhile husband Izzet carried on in Istanbul. Things there had become difficult.  The big recession hit. Business fell off.  He had friction with the two brothers he had invited in.

All along, Nuray and Izzet looked at their separation as temporary.  She would fly back regularly for a visit. He would fly here for a visit. Then they decided: he would settle things in Istanbul and fly here, too. Permanently. They would make a new life together and strive to become Americans!

I stop in now and then for a little chat. Have gotten to know them. Have seen how they have been struggling and slowly succeeding.

One day last summer near their shop, I spotted a huge yard sale in an empty lot.  Izzet and his son Cemre were presiding there. The yard sale was Izzet’s idea of a way to expand the business. They were toying with the idea.

The  strip block they’re in has several little businesses. They are at one end. One day, I noticed a new used furniture store near the opposite end.  I went in. Loaded with beds and bureaus and chairs and tables.  Cemre was manning the place. Another try. Not successful. They shut it down.

Today Izzet and Nuray are a true team. They roll up their sleeves and do whatever has to be done.

Both Nuray and Izzet learned a few words of English in school back home. Nuray has made great gains and is doing her best to get better.  Izzet is trying, too, but she got a six-year jump on him here. He throws in some good words now and then.

I stopped in at 4 p.m. a couple of days ago with this interview in mind. They were eager to tell me their story. I sat with them in their neat office at the back. Nuray was at her desk with her computer on.

There was a video of a pretty young woman on. She was playing with her tiny son.  This was not a video. It was her daughter in Istanbul. And her new grandson Toprak. Mother and daughter were on Skype and carrying on a conversation. Daughter could see Mama on her own computer monitor.

I chatted with Damla 5,000 miles away. She speaks beautiful English, so it was a pleasure. She operates an English school for pre-schoolers.  Her husband is in sales and marketing.  He came to the United States to study and that’s how they met. They met and married and Istanbul is now home. She explained her husband has a good career started there.

A happy, free-wheeling conversation like this takes place every day.

A  Turkish friend of theirs stopped in. He sat with us in the office. He was Ihsan (Ben) Akin of Old Saybrook. A few years older perhaps. Excellent English—he eased our conversation. Came to the U.S. 40 years ago, after mandatory service as a young officer in the Turkish army and university studies to become an architect. He is now the staff architect at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain.

Husband Izzet was participating in our talk also. But before long he walked away. Later I saw why. He was outside, moving in all the stuff that was weather-vulnerable for the night. Not a small job. He puts it out every morning, takes it in every evening.

Christmas will be here soon. The Christmas sales have been okay, but not as good as hoped.  Both are philosophical. They are learning every day. The recession will end. The children are doing fine. They are all together. They are enjoying their own home, a split-level ranch, in Westbrook.

Nuray has only one course left at Middlesex for her associate’s degree—an English conversation course! They are making more and more friends. Slowly the two of them are proceeding toward  citizenship in the great United States of America. Surprising how much they have accomplished.

And I have suggested a name for the store. “Treasures and Surprises.”