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HOLLADAY — Decades after arriving in Utah, one man’s dream of making a life out of his family business has become a reality — right in his own backyard. But his business is being hit harder than he ever thought possible because of the coronavirus.
What Ashot Ouzounian calls his “warehouse” sits right behind his home. From floor to ceiling, his wares blanket every surface: hand woven rugs from around the world.
“I’d rather make less and be happy, than make more and be miserable,” he said.
Ouzounian figured he could keep his overhead low by living right next to his warehouse, and it would enable him to spend more time around his family.
Selling rugs has furnished his life through a business he calls “Fine Designer Rugs.” He came to Utah from Armenia, and family’s always been front of mind.
“My grandpa’s brother came here in 1947, so he sponsored us,” Ouzounian said. “Armenians are all over the place. We’re similar to Jewish people. Any country you go to, you’ll find an Armenian.”
Ouzounian says he spoke four or five languages at the time, but English wasn’t one of them. Nevertheless, coming to America was an opportunity for a fresh start.
“I was 20 years old, 21 years old, and it was my dream,” he said. “We lived in Utah for about a year, and moved to California where I started working for my uncles.”
His uncles were in the rug business — something Ouzounian was already familiar with thanks to his father and grandfather, a man he calls his “idol.”
Ouzounian says his grandfather escaped genocide and fled to Syria, where he took 250 orphans and taught them how to weave rugs, using the profits to help support them.
“They don’t make men like them anymore,” he said proudly, while holding up a picture of his grandfather. “He taught me manners, he taught me how to treat people and how to be kind and how to be generous, and how to share your food — everything.”
Ouzounian imports rugs from countries around the world, but says he only buys from factories he’s actually visited, so he’s familiar with their techniques and how their employees are treated.
“India, Pakistan, China, Tibet, Nepal, Armenia, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, we have rugs from everywhere,” he said, gesturing to photos hanging on his walls. “These are my pictures in India, and they’re going through a horrible time right now with the coronavirus. They’re losing lots of people.”
And those hard times aren’t just restricted to India — they’ve hit Ouzounian’s business harder than he ever thought possible.
“Oh. 90, 95 percent,” he said. “I mean, just… nothing. People call, ask questions, and then you never hear back from them.”
Many of his customers are draped in uncertainty.
“They don’t know what to do,” Ouzounian said. “You know, very nervous. I’m nervous.”
He’s tried to fill the time by offering help to others who may be struggling right now.
Part of his business involves cleaning and repairing rugs, and he’s been offering to clean rugs of a certain size for free to anyone over 60. And while he’s certainly seen better days, Ouzounian is still managing to get by.
“I know how to survive,” he said. “I learned from my grandparents. Armenian culture, we have so many dishes that don’t cost much at all. I mean, cost pennies.”
The owner of one of the smallest warehouses you’ll find is surviving, for now — sticking around through a pandemic by remembering the lessons he brought with him from across the Atlantic.
“I learned money doesn’t buy happiness,” he said. “It pays for things, but it does not buy happiness.”