Carpet dealer talks international business

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Tonight's slideshow and lecture by Tom Atiyeh will give listeners as much of a chance to learn about Oriental rugs as it will be an opportunity to learn about conducting business on an international level.

The Atiyeh family has had one foot across the ocean since 1890, when Tom's grandfather and great uncle moved to the United States from a part of the world then known as the Ottoman Empire, now Syria and Lebanon.

Theirs was not the typical rags-to-riches immigrant story. The Atiyeh brothers already had made a fortune selling Arabian horses in their homeland. They moved to America with money and educations. They also brought with them brassware and carpets from the Middle East, which they began selling as they built a new life in Oregon in 1905.

The two Atiyeh brothers searched the international landscape for a place to have carpets produced by hand and found Kerman, a city in southeastern Iran.

They hired a Bulgarian designer to create the Atiyeh rugs, inspired by illuminations from the Koran and details from the Alhambra Palace in Spain, giving them a Moorish flavor.

The Atiyeh carpet business was passed from father to son to grandson.

Tom Atiyeh, who owns the family carpet business with his wife, Leslie, moved the production to China because of the embargo placed on Iran in the 1980s. Since restrictions were loosened at the end of the Clinton administration, they are in the process of rebuilding their business in Kerman in the tradition of Tom Atiyeh's grandfather.

They contract with Chinese and Iranian workers to make hand-knotted carpets with the Atiyeh designs.

"The Iranians are very welcoming to Americans and American business," Tom Atiyeh said. "Since we have returned to Kerman, the government has given us land as a token of economic good will."

Kerman, which has a population of almost 400,000, always has been a center for carpet weaving. Kerman carpets traditionally feature floral designs, and many have complex central medallions, a motif that appears in many Atiyeh designs.

"Iran is developing slowly and a lot was lost (in recent years)," Leslie Atiyeh said. "We've had to institute a lot of quality-control standards. We've had to educate them on how they used to do things."

"We see ourselves as a bridge between small businesses in the two countries," Tom Atiyeh said.

The Atiyehs sell their rugs at tradeshows and in 80 different specialty retail shops, including Chase Oriental Rug Co.

-- To reach Autumn Phillips call 871-4210

or e-mail aphillips@steamboatpilot.com

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