New to Northampton, Le BonNton sells handmade goods both local, international

  • Cigdem Turkomer, manager of Le BonNton in downtown Northampton, talks last week about handcrafted items featured in her store at 5 Old South St. in Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Hand-loomed shawls made in Turkey are among the most popular items featured at Le BonNton in downtown Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Moroccan-style tin lamps made in Istanbul, Turkey, center, are among many items featured at Le BonNton in downtown Northampton.

  • Handcrafted stars from Germany are featured at Le BonNton in downtown Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Jewelry made in Côte d’Ivoire, West Africa, is featured Dec. 6, 2017 at Le BonNton in downtown Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

Published: 12/10/2017 6:14:39 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Le BonNton is a shop with an air of mystery around it. Indeed, some customers have come in thinking it’s an office or a home.

This state of affairs is to owner Cigdem Turkomer’s liking, however, and she is looking to keep it that way.

“I like this mystery,” she said.

Located in a basement space at 5 Old South St. in Northampton, the home decor and gift shop is full of handmade goods from as close by as Northampton and Easthampton, and as far away as southern Turkey, Mali, Peru and the Ivory Coast.

Turkomer grew up in Istanbul, Turkey. About 20 years ago, she attended school in Northampton to improve her English. She stayed only for a year, but the city left an indelible impression on her.

“I had the best time, the happiest year of my life, in Northampton,” she said.

After Northampton, she went to San Francisco, where she attended college for film production. Turkomer has had an extensive career in film, including more than decade as a set designer. She decided to set that aside, however, to open Le BonNton, which had its first day of business on May 6 of this year.

“I love mixing culture, fabrics,” she said. “It’s a perfect place here.”

Turkomer said that Northampton reminds her of Europe, and that she loves walking from her place on Main Street to her shop.

Turkomer says that 80 percent of the goods in the store are made by women, and that 80 percent of the goods are handmade. Because of her time in the film industry, she also has personal relationships with a number of these female craftspeople.

“I know lots of local people (around the world),” she said.

“(It) just came naturally from my heart,” said Turkomer, on her decision to support women artists.

She is also making a video out of the stories and videos of some of the craftspeople whose wares Turkomer sells at Le BonNton.

Some of the items for sale in the store are jewelry from Easthampton, blankets and towels from southern Turkey near the Aegean sea, and baskets from Mali.

The shop has antique items as well, and Turkomer also designs products and does interior design consultancy.

“Just little touches,” she said, speaking about her consulting style.

Turkomer said that this is her first retail business, and that she is experiencing her first Christmas retail season, although she noted that the New Year’s season is similar for shopping and gift buying in Turkey.

“I’m learning,” she said.

She also said that other local business owners have been helping her out.

Turkomer said that she finds it weird to be a boss.

“It’s not me,” she said, noting that she has a motherly way about her.

Currently she has two regular employees, as well as a rotating cast of additional help.

One of her employees is Natalie Sotarello, who started working at the store a few months after Le BonNton opened.

“It’s a lot of fun,” said Sotarello, who described Turkomer as open, helpful and wise. “She’s definitely become someone very important in my life.”

Indeed, the University of Massachusetts Amherst student describes Turkomer as a bit of a mentor, and she said that Turkomer gives her employees the ability to express themselves.

She also said that customers appreciate that the store has a mixture of goods from close by and far away.

Turkomer offers Turkish coffee to her shop’s customers, and she said that a number of them have been to Istanbul before.

“We are always talking about Istanbul,” she said.

Another reason that Turkomer chose to start a shop in Northampton is so that her children could get an education in the United States. Her 14-year-old-daughter is attending Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School, while her 16-year-old son is at Northampton High School. She said that both are enjoying their time here.

Turkomer says that she plans on staying in the United States until her children have finished college. As for where she may go next, she said that Peru might be an option, where she has a great relationship with a community of craftswomen there.

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