*Updated: A year after this article was posted, Diane Bryman has reopened and is currently doing business under the same name. — Update May 1, 2014
by Pete Mazzaccaro
What creates one often destroys one, and so it is for Diane Bryman Orientals. After serving the community for more than 50 years, the fine Persian and oriental rug store is holding a liquidation sale as owners and staff prepare to close their Chestnut Hill store on the heels of a slumping economy that over the past three years has shut down both Magarity Chevrolet and Borders.
“I’m speechless on that point,” said Edmond Azizi, the Iranian-born store proprietor, owner and main purchaser who joined the company in 1977 and took over in 1992, about the close. “I’ve spent most of my life here. It’s a beautiful community. I hate to leave.”
Prices were already reduced, and now customers can save an additional 30 to 40 percent at the store. A decrease in sales over the past three years has strained Azizi’s ability to pay the store’s high-end creditors. He estimated that by May it may have liquidated enough product to satisfy creditors, who Azizi said, have been cooperative and are disappointed to lose a long-time customer.
Diane Bryman’s current stock includes about 3,500 premium Persian and oriental rugs, roughly one-third of which are antiques, meaning 75-years-old or older. The future of the building at 8038 Germantown Ave. is undetermined.
It was a sluggish economy in 1960 that drove Diane Bryman, now remarried and using the name Diane Poletajev, raised in the Midwest, Oklahoma and Arkansas and moved east with her family at 10, and her first husband, Richard, now deceased, to start selling used furniture, rugs and carpet remnants, out of their home in West Mt. Airy.
This was a time before house sales, and the couple’s small side business to help pay the mortgage grew to the point where they rented a shop across from the Charles W. Henry School, down the street from their home on Carpenter Lane.
Around that same time they landed a deal with Masland Carpets and Rugs to buy experimental rugs and remnants “as-is” by the pound. Unaware of the increasing scope of their project, the couple a year later had to rent a warehouse a block away at 542 Carpenter Lane to store their fast-growing stock.
“It just happened to be the right time in our history,” said Poletajev, who now lives in Florida, with her current husband, Gury Poletajev, during a recent interview. A few years later, they bought another nearby Carpenter Lane property, continued to expand and started to focus on advertising. In 1972, they opened at their current location.
As they expanded, the Brymans learned by doing. Around the time they opened their Avenue location, Richard Bryman left his job as a teacher in South Philly to work at the store full-time. It was then their focus shifted towards oriental rugs.
“I was just fascinated with the old rugs and the uniqueness of so many old pieces,” said Poletajev, 76, a Philadelphia Conservatory of Music classically trained pianist who left school early, was married and had children. “[Especially] the way they look after a hundred years.”
And so Poletajev applied her taste for Bach and Brahms, as well her ability to perform the composers’ music, to selecting ornate rugs embroidered with paisley designs, symbolic imagery like the Tree of Life, which symbolizes longevity and prosperity, and other patterns intertwined and woven at workshops in cities or villages across the Middle East and Asia.
Soon after, in 1977, during a purchasing venture in New York, the couple met Azizi, whose father worked as a rug purchaser in Iran. That same year Azizi, who had been working in the industry for a few years, came to Chestnut Hill.
“I said I’ll give it a shot for three months, and I’ll see what happens,” said Azizi, who raised a family in Wyndmoor and now has two college-aged children. Today he lives in West Los Angeles for some of the year and Lafayette Hill for the rest.
Both Poletajev and Azizi said the key to building a long-standing successful business was building a reputation. Their reputation was made by the way they treated people who shopped in their store and by practicing fairness in business relations. People came back, and they told their friends.
“You just get involved,” said Poletajev about running the business. “One day at a time, one customer at a time … it was never about the money. It was like a family … I walk back in that place, and it’s like a museum.”
In 1982 Poletajev, who remarried in 1992, began to experience back pains caused by the demanding work required to turn and unroll carpets to display them for customers. She stopped working full-time in 1992 and has served as the store’s advisor and advertiser for almost the past two decades. She said she misses the people and the interaction but felt comfortable leaving the store to Azizi.
“He follows the same dictates of conscience,” she said. “To be fair and honest as you deal with people. And it comes back to you. It’s true with everything in life.”
Rugs have been a passion of the Iranian people since ancient times. Azizi, who as a young man traveled with his father to workshops where the rugs were made in villages and cities in Iran, said up until the time he left the country in 1977 (he has not returned, citing political turmoil in the nation) to come to the states for college, Persian rugs were in almost every home.
According to Wikipedia, the oldest known rug dates back to 2500 B.C.E., and Chinese texts dating back to 224 A.C.E. contain the first documented evidence of the existence of Persian carpets.
The value of a rug varies but is often determined by the quality of wool, the main fabric used to weave a carpet, according to Azizi, 62, who served as president of the board of the Oriental Rug Retailers of America from 1995 to 1997. Wool raised in higher elevations is more resistant and thus more valuable. He said throw rugs tend to be made more in villages while larger rugs are constructed in workshops in cities.
Rugs are named after the city or village, of which there are hundreds in Iran – the region known for developing the rug-making trade – and even in the same village the quality of a rug varies from piece to piece. In the Baktiari region, according to Azizi, for ages villagers migrated from one village to the next and carried looms on their camels.
“I want to thank everybody and the community for supporting us all these years,” said Azizi. “I cannot appreciate it enough.”
“I feel really bad that it’s time to go on,” Poletajev said. “Chestnut Hill is such a beautiful place to have a store.”
For more information, visit dianebrymanrugs.com.