Magic Carpets

Rustigian Rugs in Fox Point wins major international award

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Rustigian Rugs is based in a handsome brick building on Governor Street, and the two floors are packed with ornate rugs and swatches. The shop has been a fixture of Fox Point for decades, but January brought some staggering news: Rustigian Rugs won an award for Exemplary Rug Specialist Shop. But not just exemplary by Rhode Island standards, or even New England. Rustigian is one of the most exemplary shops in the world.

“I’m probably better known internationally than I am locally,” says Roz Rustigian, the shop’s eponymous owner. Then she adds, with characteristic dry humor: “I’m no shrinking violet.”

The business dates back to the 1930s. George Rustigian was studying at Harvard Law, but the Depression terminated his studies. To make money, Rustigian started selling rugs in his family’s garage, and business thrived for half a century. His daughter Rosalind grew up with rugs, but she had other aspirations: She earned a degree from Cornell University’s Graduate School of Hotel Administration and planned to work in the hospitality business. Yet when her father passed away in 1980, Roz took the reins and quickly connected with her father’s customers. Since then, Rustigian has become an energetic member of the global rug community, sitting on boards, writing for industry publications, and serving as president of the Oriental Rug Retailers Association of America.

Rustigian received her honor from the staff of Carpet! magazine, during a ceremony at the Domotex Flooring Fair in Hannover, Germany. The award is a milestone, of course, but Rustigian suspects it has less to do with the prominence of her store than her leadership in the field. Buying and selling rugs has taken Rustigian to such far-flung places as Turkey, India, and Romania. She’s adapted to an evolving marketplace, which has largely replaced importers with direct Internet orders. Rustigian has served as co-chairman of the Initiative to Educate Afghan Women, positively impacting one of the communities she does business with. When she first took over her father’s brand, Rustigian faced rampant sexism and condescension; today, she says all her local competitors have shuttered.

“You can be in business and be a turtle, or you can be active in your industry,” says Rustigian in an aphoristic tone. Although she never aspired to be a rug dealer, she’s learned to enjoy herself. “Vendors smile when they see me coming. They know they’re about to sell something, they’re going to get paid, and they’re about to have a really good time. I see absolutely no excuse not to have a good time, no matter what you’re doing. A deadly serious transaction is anathema. You need to savor it, have fun with it.”