Clean sweep: Another Eways bids adieu

In his nearly 40 years in the rug trade, Frank Eways has built a reputation as an expert on Oriental rugs. A world-class appraiser and owner of Frank S. Eways Ltd., a rug store off Rt. 33 in Greene County, Eways has appeared on national news programs including the Today Show and 20/20. People seek his expertise on rugs valued at more than a million dollars.

But by late fall this undisputed member of Charlottesville's rug royalty will have abdicated his throne. His successor? Fourth-generation rug purveyor Mark Kambourian, whose family business, M. Kambourian Sons, was founded in 1896 and opened its first Richmond store in 1906.

The time to bow out was right, as was the situation, says Eways, who took over his father's Charlottesville rug business, Salem Eways, in 1967. His two brothers, Munir and Terry, joined him in the business, but eventually the three split, each opening his own separate rug business.

Eways, 66, met the Kambourians early in his career, and the relationship, he says, remains strong.

"The Kambourians have been friends for 40 years," he explains. And the chance to offer the space to a family business "whose reputation is great" was a chance he couldn't pass up.

Though he says he'd had an offer from someone who wanted to buy the business outright– instead of just the lease on the space– he wasn't happy with the way that individual did business.

"I didn't want to leave anything with a bad taste," says Eways, who learned a lesson from the sale of his brother Munir's now-defunct business, Eways Carpet One on Route 29 North near the Antiquers Mall. That new owner, Bob Dumitru, Eways says, damaged the family's reputation– and contributed to his decision to retire.

Though Dumitru did not return the Hook's calls, two of his business dealings were the subject of an April 2004 Fearless Consumer column. One customer dropped off an antique rug only to have it disappear for nine months. When it did resurface, none of the work had been done, though the customer had already paid half the repair fee. The other customer ordered wall-to-wall carpeting, only to learn on the day it was to be installed that it had not even been ordered from the manufacturer. That store closed last April, but Eways says the fall-out continues at his store– an entirely separate entity.

"We're still getting calls," he says. "It's still very frustrating for me. I spent all these years building up a name, and just in that short period of time, this is what happened. At one point we were referred to as the Tiffany's of the Oriental rug business."

Munir Eways declined comment on that situation, except to call it "unfortunate." And while he hadn't heard of his brother's retirement plan, he wished him well. "He's worked very, very hard," Munir says, calling Frank "a good brother."

Eways' other brother, Terry, who owns T.S. Eways on the Downtown Mall, will be the last Eways in the retail rug business. And although, like Munir, he hadn't heard of his brother's plans, he also wished him a happy retirement.

That retirement won't exactly be restful. Eways plans to stay busy cleaning and repairing rugs in a space adjacent to his former store. And he'll continue to appraise Oriental rugs around the world.

Kambourian says he's excited to be expanding into the Charlottesville market– something he'd deferred because of his family's friendship with Eways.

While Kambourian says some of the new inventory will be similar to Eways', there will be a difference.

"We import a lot of our own stuff," Kambourian says, "so we'll have a little broader selection, more countries represented, more emphasis on new rugs, less on antiques."

After the 60-day sale of Eways' inventory, Kambourian says, the business will close down for the remainder of December, a traditionally slow time for the rug business. It will reopen "full force" with the Kambourian name in January.

"We have to make sure everyone in Greene County is happy up here," he laughs.

Frank Eways (second from right) will retire this fall from Oriental rug retail, and Mark Kambourian (far right) will open a new store.