Tacoma rug store ending after 85 years in business

Owner has seen generations of loyal customers shop at Tacoma store

c.r.roberts@thenewstribune.comDecember 29, 2013 

His father’s carpet emporium was already eight years in business when Arthur Kirishian, now 77, was born. On New Year’s Day, and after 85 years, Kirishian Oriental Rugs will close its retail showroom in Tacoma’s Stadium District.

Today, the industry that Arthur Kirishian was born into barely exists.

“The weavers are leaving the looms, getting better jobs,” Kirishian said a few weeks ago, sitting in the showroom located on the first floor of the Landmark Convention Center – Temple Theater building.

Oriental rugs were once one-of-a-kind, each by custom and design never exactly the same as a carpet woven in the same village or even by the same hand.

“Society has moved away from hand-work. Our society has changed so much,” Kirishian said. “People are so busy now.”

All of the rugs he sells are hand-woven, this in an industry wherein China has begun setting the retail agenda with rubber backing on carpets and stitching done by machines.

“It’s faster, cheaper,” Kirishian said.

CHANGES IN INDUSTRY

A graduate of Stadium High School, Kirishian attended the University of Puget Sound and later Ambassador College. He taught school until 1972, when his father decided to retire and called Arthur home to the family business.

Kirishian Carpet Co. sells, imports, repairs and cleans carpets and rugs. And the rugs he sells can range in price from moderate, say for a runner, to expensive, say for a large silk carpet best suited for display rather than for potentially muddy shoes.

If it’s still on the wall, there’s a beautiful example priced north of $12,000.

“We’re seeing that the younger generation — they don’t want things to last,” Kirishian said. “They want to keep something for 10 years and then move on. Their appreciation for art is changing. This is kind of a throw-away society.”

He has also noted — over the decades — that animal issues have brought more carpets into his repair and cleaning business.

“Animals chewing, urination,” he said. “Before, we would get one every couple of months. Now it’s twice a week. More people have animals, and there are more homes without people living all day in the house.”

Kirishian decided to close for two reasons.

“If something happens to me, I can’t ask my daughters to close the business,” he said.

Alongside that, and like many business owners, Krishnan said, “I’m working harder and earning less.”

He has found that “people don’t want to pay the higher prices.”

Like his father before him, Kirishian keeps a handwritten record of the prices people have paid and the carpets they bought, going back to the beginning. Some families represent the second and third generation of customers recorded in the book.

IN RETIREMENT

“I want to put my house in order, financial and physical,” Kirishian said. “That’s going to take a year or so.”

One of his employees will manage the company’s carpet-washing plant, and Kirishian figures he will help with that business a few days a week. He and his wife also expect to spend time with their 10 grandchildren, and Kirishian will not be neglecting his twice-weekly handball game as played at the new Elks Allenmore building. He also expects to continue his volunteer work at the women’s correctional center in Purdy.

Employee Sandy McLane has been with Kirishian for three years.

“I came in to pick up my rugs,” she recalls. “The sun was shining, and I just decided to lie down on one of the rugs. The words just came out: ‘Do you ever hire?’”

Kirishian did hire, and he hired her.

“I think he’s going to miss the business, but he’ll be relieved,” McLane said. “The first six months, he’ll miss the people and he’ll miss the rugs.”

The 90 or so rugs that remain in stock — those Kirishian owns — will be sold at a reserve auction after the first of the year.

“My parents struggled,” Kirishian said. “I’ve never thought of myself as an entrepreneur. I think of myself as more of a manager. I just feel very grateful. My customers say they’re very sad, but understanding. I’ve put in my years. I want to close while I still have the energy to do it.”

He could have sold the business, which, like the carpets, is the only one of its kind in Tacoma.

“It wouldn’t be right to sell it, unless they want a hobby,” Kirishian said. “I wouldn’t want to sell it to someone who couldn’t make a living. I don’t see this as a viable business in 15 years.”

Kirishian Oriental Rugs

Location: In business since 1928; at current site, 49 Saint Helens Ave., for seven decades.

The news: The showroom will close Jan. 1.

Owner: Arthur Kirishian, 77.

Employees: Four.

Carpet origins: Seven countries produce the bulk of the world hand-made carpets: India, China, Iran, Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tibet.

Arthur’s favorite rug over the years: “The one that keeps coming back to mind is a 9-by-16 Kashan, mint condition, 40 years old. It was Manchester wool, soft and silky, with a sheen that just flowed. It had 350 knots per-square-inch. It sold for $15,000, and that was 30 years ago. Ruby red with a navy blue border. I think it sold to representatives of the Shah.”

C.R. Roberts: 253-597-8535 c.r.roberts@thenewstribune.com

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