The Tehrani brothers — Ruben, Benjamin and Yehudah — have sold Oriental rugs in the Philadelphia area since 1977. There have been times when they thought they might try something else, move on to a different trade.
But that’s the thing about the Oriental rug business, Ruben Tehrani said, at the recently reopened — and renamed — location in Bryn Mawr: It’s not that simple.
“I cannot do anything except the rug business,” he said. “Because it goes to your blood.”
It would seem that the story of the Tehrani Brothers Oriental Rugs — now, after 43 years, called Bryn Mawr Oriental Rugs — begins in 1977, when the brothers decided that they would go into business with one another. But in reality, the story begins a few years earlier, when Ruben Tehrani became the first of the brothers to come to the United States. He attended Kutztown State (now Kutztown University), studying economics while flipping rugs, spending time at auctions and estate sales. In 1977, he briefly returned to Iran; sensing that the tide had turned against Jews in a way it never had in his lifetime, he came back to the U.S., soon to be followed by his brothers.
Inspired by their father and grandfather’s work in Iran, they decided they would get into the rug business and, lo, Tehrani Brothers Oriental Rugs was born in Rosemont.
From early on, Ruben Tehrani said, they did everything they could to market to the Jewish community. He still keeps a stack of old copies of the Jewish Exponent and Inside Magazine, each of them with a full-page color ad for the store or the occasional human-interest story regarding their flight from Iran.
“It is hard to start all over again,” he told Inside in 1983, for an article that featured a photo of all three brothers in their store, surrounded by rugs.
“We did a lot of business with Jews of all different denominations,” Ruben said
Over the years, the business performed like any other, with lean and fat years bringing both pleasures and worries. At one point, Ruben Tehrani noted, they owned 21,000 square feet of retail space, from Wayne to Lancaster to Morgantown.
“Baruch Hashem, we were doing very good,” he said.
About 25 years ago, he and his brothers decided to become more religious and, consequently, close the store on holidays and Shabbat — the latter being, of course, the best day for business.
It was a difficult decision, but one they believed was right. And for many years, the business continued to prosper.
In 2008, the financial downturn hurt them tremendously. They closed every store except for the Bryn Mawr location, which continued to chug along. But by 2017, even that Lancaster Avenue store was no longer profitable; they closed the store and rented out the building, which they own.
They ran into some issues. Firstly, the façade of the store is of an ornate, obviously Persian-style; in other words, it’s the type of place where it would make perfect sense to look up and see “Tehrani Brothers Oriental Rugs,” but not much else. And the building itself was designed to sell rugs — not an easy remodeling project for another business owner looking to move in.
As the brothers were deciding whether to reopen the store — and Benjamin Tehrani was tending to his own business, I Want Moore Bakery in Manayunk — a new concern came up: People were calling and leaving messages telling them to “go home,” calling them terrorists, and yelling the same kinds of things as they drove past.
After decades in business, it seemed, their name had become a liability. Even friends told them that they might consider changing the name, Yehudah said. The actions of the Iranian government — “the Amalek,” in Ruben Tehrani’s assessment — could hurt their business as they attempted to begin again.
Neither Ruben Tehrani nor Yehudah Tehrani feels that it’s a terrible loss to have to change the name. Though they’re certainly not ashamed of their name — it’s been in the family for centuries, Yehudah said — they naturally want their business to be successful.
“We want to make it again,” Ruben Tehrani said.
And so the name of their newly reopened store is Bryn Mawr Oriental Rugs, which Ruben Tehrani hopes connotes the solidity of Bryn Mawr College or Bryn Mawr Trust.
The store’s interior, cleaned up for a grand reopening just after Rosh Hashanah, is covered in symbols of America and Judaism; statues of Moses, American and Israeli flags and a photo of Ruben Tehrani posing with Zionist Organization of America President Morton Klein. Classical music plays quietly.
“It’s going to make a difference,” Ruben Tehrani said.
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