NEW CASTLE, Pa. – For more than 125 years, Rashid’s Oriental Rugs in New Castle, Pennsylvania, has provided a service that is hard to find and even harder to perfect.
Owner Jerry Rashid found his passion for oriental rugs at 9 years old while watching his father repair them by hand. Rashid, now 80, dedicated his life to carrying on a legacy that was started by his grandfather in 1896. But aging and modernity is putting an end to the family business.
For years, the bulk of Rashid’s business consisted of repairs and cleaning, but he closed that portion of the business in December. The rugs, usually made from wool or silk, become extremely heavy when wet and he says he can’t handle the manual labor required.
“I hate to see it go but I can’t handle it. My age is catching up with me,” Rashid says.
The shelves and walls of Rashid’s shop are full of authentic, hand-knotted oriental rugs of all colors and sizes. He’s tasked with selling the rest of his inventory, which he’s marked 50% off, before shuttering the doors of the business for good and retiring.
Rashid is facing a problem that many family businesses face by the third or fourth generation: the owner needs to exit the business, but there’s no one to take over. His daughter has a family and career of her own and most of the employees who knew the business well left during the pandemic.
FROM THE GROUND UP
Rashid’s grandfather was one of four brothers who emigrated to the United States from Lebanon in the late 1800s. His grandfather began a traveling rug sales business in the Midwest and eventually homesteaded in South Dakota. His grandfather left the business and one of his brothers decided to continue it and set up shop in Chautauqua, New York, in 1904.
Rashid’s father, Samuel, traveled to New York every summer to work in the store. While in Chautauqua, he often rubbed shoulders with one of America’s greatest inventors: Thomas Edison.
“In the summers, he would do errands for Thomas Edison and his wife,” Rashid says. “Can you imagine? The electric man would ask him to go to the store.”
When the Great Depression hit, Samuel Rashid left New York and settled in New Castle in 1930. He started the business downtown on Neshannock Avenue. Downtown development pushed the business out 40 years later.
The shop’s current building on East Washington Street was built in 1972. His father decided to construct a building that would fit the business. So he bought a lot and hired a company to build the shop. Certain parts of the shop, like the wash plant and ample floor space to lay out the rugs, were included to accommodate the business.
Rashid worked alongside his father for years and took over as owner after his father’s death in 1988.
A DYING ART
Oriental rugs were used as floor coverings before carpet and can still be found on stages under the feet of musicians. Aside from being aesthetically pleasing, stage rugs are also used to prevent trip hazards, stop equipment from sliding around the stage floor and absorb sound.
“If you watch television or the old movies, you’ll see them. All those rock bands have orientals underneath mainly for sound,” Rashid says. “The funny thing is, I see them all the time. I pay attention.”
The care, repair and appreciation of oriental rugs is a lost art, says Rashid, and cheap, mass-produced home décor is saturating the market. He says the younger generation doesn’t buy authentic – and often expensive – oriental rugs.
“Young people haven’t caught on yet,” he says. “They want to go to Ikea. They want to buy white and black inexpensive things that they can throw away when they’re done using them.”
Rashid says his oriental rugs can last 200 years and some of the rugs in his shop date to the 1800s. While their durability is a selling point, Rashid says their beauty is his favorite part.
“I love the rugs. I got into it because it’s a passion for me. There’s nothing like them,” he says. “I love selling them, and I used to love washing them and they’re all different. It’s amazing.”
Rashid has sold rugs to customers across the United States. He also has cared for the rugs of loyal out-of-state and local customers, although he says most of his customers are from New Castle. He says the expert care that he gives each rug sets him apart from other businesses.
“We’re one of a kind, one of the few. Not many people know what we know or have what we have. And nobody could wash them like us,” he says. “Some of the places are trying to learn and they may catch up to it but I have a lifetime. There are so many top secrets that I know.”
Oriental rugs can’t be cleaned by commercial carpet cleaning companies. Rashid says the rugs don’t have to be deep cleaned often but he recommends regular, careful vacuuming. But when it comes time for a deep cleaning, he says an expert is the only way to go.
The cleaning and repair portion of his business attracted customers, and it saddened him to turn them away after closing it for want of help and ability.
“I felt so bad closing the cleaning plant,” Rashid says. “It just broke my heart because I had loyal customers and they’re just devastated.”
As the closing of his business nears, Rashid is focusing on selling his remaining inventory. Once the shop is empty, he’ll walk away. He says he doesn’t want to close but circumstances forced his hand.
“We lasted a long time. We did. We gave our all to this community,” he says. “It’s been good but it’s time to go.”
Rashid’s Oriental Rugs is located at 1236 E. Washington St. in New Castle. All rugs are half off while inventory lasts.
Pictured at top: Jerry Rashid’s grandfather started the family’s specialty rug business, eventually settling in New Castle in 1930.