Longtime rug business to close

Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER --  Greg Dombourian of Dombourian Oriental Rugs is closing shop Friday, November 16, 2012. The business has been around New Orleans for 102 years.
Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- Greg Dombourian of Dombourian Oriental Rugs is closing shop Friday, November 16, 2012. The business has been around New Orleans for 102 years.

New Orleans — Chances are that if you’re of a certain generation, you have at least one intricate handwoven rug in your home. And if you are a New Orleans-area resident, chances are it came from Dombourian Oriental Rugs.

The family business has sold rugs to countless New Orleanians since 1910, but this month, after 102 years of operation, the store will close its doors.

Greg Dombourian said the timing was right to end things.

The third generation to run the business, Dombourian said his sons weren’t interested in carrying on the business. He can’t blame them, he said. After all, different people have different interests, he said, and times and tastes change.

The days of people spending big bucks on handcrafted rugs have passed, he said. Mass production has made rugs cheaper and more disposable.

“All through the whole industry, things are changing,” Dombourian said.

He’d been thinking for some time about how to wind down the business, but that wasn’t easy, and he didn’t want to sell out to a large chain.

“It’s kind of like, do you shut it down, or drop dead at your desk?” Dombourian asked.

The solution to his problem arrived one day this summer in the mail.

“It was my tax bill from (New Orleans Assessor) Erroll Williams,” Dombourian said as a grin broke across his face.

The higher property tax bill made up his mind: Dombourian decided to sell the building.

“It’s bittersweet,” he said. “But this is the time.”

Dombourian’s grandfather Mampreh founded the business a century ago.

Mampreh Dombourian was born in 1885 in Armenia, in what is present-day Turkey. He immigrated to Chicago during his teen years and began to work for Nahigian Bros., one of the largest oriental rug dealers at the time.

The company eventually sent him to New Orleans to open a branch, which would be located across the street from the former DeSoto Hotel, now the Le Pavillon, on Poydras Street.

The exact date of when he opened the store is unknown, but he became sole proprietor in 1910. He moved the shop to Royal Street in the French Quarter and renamed it Dombourian Oriental Rugs. Since then it has moved Uptown and has been at its current location in the 2800 block of Magazine Street since 1991.

By the end of the month the store will be a part of the city’s history. Greg Dombourian will vacate the building by mid-December.

He’s worked in the store for 44 years, beginning as a 12-year-old boy who worked alongside his aunt. After that much time in the business, it’s hard to quit cold turkey. So when he’s done with the shop, he plans to stay busy as a rug appraiser, something for which he recently became certified.

An avid fisherman, he said he also will spend more time casting a line.

But, he said, he’ll miss his customers, many of whom are second and third generation.

“Today it might be $300 to clean a rug, but some people come in and they remember when it was $3,” Dombourian said of his longtime customers.

B.B. Adatto is a third-generation Dombourian customer. She remembers going to the store with her mother and grandmother and how the family would change rugs with the seasons — wool rugs in the winter, straw rugs in the summer.

“Not only would they take the wool rugs during the summer, but they would also put slip covers over all the furniture,” said Uptown resident Mary Griswold, another longtime customer. “We didn’t have air conditioning back then, so you did this during the summer months to make the room feel cooler with lighter fabrics.”

As it draws closer to closing day, Dombourian said he’s seen more and more people stop in to wish him well.

“Some people have come in crying, saying ‘You’re like McKenzie’s or K&B — ain’t there no more.’ I say, ‘Don’t be sad, be glad. I’m going fishing,’” Dombourian said.