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Business Success Profile - Oriental Rug

By Merrie Spaeth, KERA 90.1 commentator

Dallas, TX – Heard yesterday's news about lack of confidence in the economy? Well, people are continuing to start small businesses. Last Friday, the Small Business Administration issued its latest update. Small businesses are where the action is. Maxine Shapiro is on vacation, For KERA Marketplace Middays, I'm Merrie Spaeth.

Last year in Texas, the number of small businesses increased, despite the recession! I understand why. In the '87 downturn, I started mine. I had to. No one would hire me. Best thing that ever happened to me. And Dallas is the place to do it. Take Oriental Rug, on Ross Avenue downtown. Started in 1911 by an Armenian immigrant from Turkey - that's an American story in itself. Ellen Amirkan, the founder's granddaughter, runs it today. Incidentally, here in Texas, women own about 25% of small businesses. You know diversity is the big buzzword? Oriental Rug has a work force of African Americans, Hispanics, someone from Bosnia and from Eritrea. It's fascinating to see them all huddled with Ellen in a discussion about how to restore an antique Sarook.

The company provides cleaning, appraisal - Ellen is considered one of the country's experts - and restoration. Recently, a man came in with what he described as an old rag. His parents had died and the rug had been out in the barn. No one else wanted it. Ellen spotted it as an old Mahal - Persian - from 1910. The wool portion had been eaten by moths, but the cotton warp was intact. It took a while but when it was restored, it was worth between $30,000 and $40,000.

Now what's the lesson here? Expertise and experience matter. Seems there's a big difference in how you approach a Tabriz made in 1990 from one in 1920. The threads and dyes are very different. Clean it wrong and you turn it into dust. Integrity lets small businesses compete and survive. The Amirkans could have told this guy the rug was worthless. Training and respect are what make a really diverse work force, and this company stayed downtown on Ross for the convenience of their skilled workers.

Economic contractions force a lot of people to strike out on their own, just as Ellen Amirkan's grandfather did - and it's good thing - for them, for Dallas, for the country. For KERA Marketplace Middays, I'm Merrie Spaeth.

Merrie Spaeth is a communications consultant in Dallas.