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Oriental Rug closes after growing with Bellevue
When Farhad Korram first moved to Bellevue from Iran, he can remember only a single high-rise building in downtown Bellevue. Today, his store, Oriental Rug Co., is flanked by parking lots and retail space he hardly could have imagined three decades ago.
“[There’s been] a lot of change,” recalls Korram as he surveys a store room crammed with rugs of all shapes and designs. They’re rolled and stacked in corners, hanging from the walls and layered like islands in the middle of the store room.
After 32 years in business, Korram recently announced plans to retire and sell the 0.3 acre site to Kemper Development for an undisclosed amount. “When we came here, it was just the Paccar building. Now, [there’s] a lot of buildings here, that have actually transformed this part of Bellevue.”
Korram fled Iran in 1980, during the Iranian revolution. His property and belongings had been seized by the government, and Korram had spent six months in jail. He was fleeing a country that no longer felt like home. His brother had been in Germany and sold rugs himself, so he encouraged Korram to do the same in the states. Before moving into their current space, Korram and his wife opened a smaller location at the center of the court in Bellevue Square mall. Because Oriental Rug imports the rugs themselves, without any middleman, the business quickly proved profitable. He purchased their location at Bellevue Way and Northeast Fourth Street, and demolished an existing building to make room.
“These handmade rugs, they’re a piece of art,” says Korram. He points to a book of photos of rugs, some appraised as high as $250,000. “...Families pass it from generation to generation.”
He takes out a model loom of the same style and design as the ones used in the Middle East and Asia. Ribbons of thread run vertically and the weaver – usually a single person working on a rug sometimes many feet long – sits at the base, knotting the colorful wool. When the rug is completed, the ends of the fringes are braided or tasseled. Even smaller designs require multiple years to make.
Korram used to travel four times a year to Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and China, negotiating with vendors as he went. Because he’d fled Iran, he’d have friends ship rugs out of the country, packing the rugs in cargo containers and shipping them by sea. Persian rugs are considered to be the most valued and expensive, though economic embargoes on Iran halted imports.
Korram estimates that he now has an inventory of 15,000 rugs, 60 percent of which he hopes to sell before closing for good. The rest he’ll ship to wholesalers in California and New York. Korram says Kemper Development first expressed interest in his space 10 years ago, though he wasn’t ready at the time to leave his business. Now the moment seems right. Korram is proud to be selling the site to a developer he says has greatly shaped Bellevue in the time he’s lived here.
“He works hard for Bellevue, making nice buildings and hotels. He’s made a nice community out of downtown Bellevue. That’s the reason I sold it to him.”
Oriental Rug is surrounded by parking spaces, but the acquisition will secure all of the space between Bellevue Square and Northeast Fourth Street. With phase two of Lincoln Square expansion planned for the near future, the property will be redeveloped into a mixed-use luxury retail project, including a hotel, more retail space, offices and a residential tower.
Bellevue’s skyline isn’t the only thing that’s changed in the last 30 years. Korram, whose two sons used to work at Oriental Rug, now has grandchildren and hopes to spend more time with them.
“I’m 76 years old, and I’m ready to retire,” said Korram. “I’ll stay [here] because my family, my sons and grandchildren are here in Bellevue. I want to stay here and enjoy the love.
Farhad Korram and his wife, Azi, sit in the center of their store room at Oriental Rug Co., which will soon close as the family plans to retire.
CELINA KAREIVA, Bellevue Reporter