Persian rugs hang by a thread in U.S.

Close-up of a Persian rug

TEXT OF STORY

Doug Krizner: Congress is struggling over how to get tough with Iran. There's talk of more sanctions, and re-imposing a 1980's ban on imported Persian rugs.

Lisa Chow, from member station WNYC, reports on how the ban may accelerate what's already taking place in the U.S. marketplace.


Lisa Chow: It takes a connoisseur to recognize a real Persian rug, and the connoisseur knows that nothing rivals the real thing.

Nouri Aziz: This is the most gorgeous silk. It's the finest of the finest. You can touch it. It's beautiful. Soft.

And expensive. Nouri Aziz works for one of the largest Persian rug importers on the East Coast. He says some rugs sell for as much as $100,000, retail. They're handmade, their colors are bright, and they often feature large, traditional centerpiece motifs.

There's only a small market in the U.S. for these kinds of carpets. American buyers usually want muted tones and regular patterns to match their furniture.

Aziz says it's not easy getting his Iranian weavers to satisfy American tastes for style and color.

Aziz: The guy laughs at me. He says my grandfather was making this color rose, my son was making this color rose, I'm making this color rose. And you young, stupid guy. You're telling me this is not a good color? They are very stubborn, too. They are very stubborn people.

It's that stubbornness that has curtailed the market in genuine Persian rugs. Most Americans now buy rugs made in India, China and Pakistan.

Kami Ohebshalom is a broker in Manhattan's oriental rug district. Congress may ban Persian carpets, he says, but it won't make much difference to Iranian weavers. These days, they're selling in Asia and Europe, where currencies are stronger than the dollar. And with high oil prices boosting Iran's local economy, there's plenty of domestic demand.

Kami Ohebshalom: Iranians inside the country have so much money that they don't even need to export the rugs anymore. The rugs get sold within the country.

The price of a Persian rug will certainly go up if a ban goes through, but Nouri Aziz says prices are already rising. Carpet weaving is labor-intensive, he says, and weavers are finding that younger workers prefer to develop skills in technology.

In New York, I'm Lisa Chow for Marketplace.

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