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Sunday, December 3, 2023


Port of Sale Mall at Havensight now contains 20,000 intensely colorful square feet of fabric from the Middle East, known locally as Lapis Oriental Rugs. Five thousand rugs, to be precise.
Rugs are everywhere: on the floor, on the walls, stacked up all over the spacious rooms. In fact, about the only place not boasting a rug is the ceiling—but it's early yet. The store just opened Wednesday.
Walking through its spacious halls is like a trip in a padded kaleidoscope. There are 15 individual display rooms opening on to vast and seemingly endless hallways.
Manager Vasif Korur, vice president of the international company, is very pleased with his Caribbean locale.
"We have a staff of about 35, with mostly local people," he said. "By next year, we will be all local." Korur was pleasantly surprised with the young Virgin Islanders he has hired. "They learn fast, and they are good," he said.
Korur noted that "St. Thomas has about 300 jewelry stores, but no rug store. This will give people an opportunity to buy something different." He said he wants to encourage local business as well as the cruise ship clientele. Along those lines, he is offering a 50 percent local discount and will provide a free lecture including all aspects of the rugs and their history. "Each rug tells a story," he said.
Korur employs the usual sales staff, but also something a little different—rug handlers. The young men dressed in black from head to toe seemed to be everywhere, standing as sentinels until paged. "Go get a tribal wool three by five, and a couple large silks," said Haluk Akyuz, Lapis' operations manger. The young men bring back the rugs and spread them for inspection, looking as though they'd been doing it for years.
Akyuz is from Turkey and has been in the rug business all his life. He can tell how a rug is woven by hand, where the silk or wool or mercerized cotton comes from, when it was made, how long it took to make it, and how old it is. On top of that, each rug has a story, and many of them have names like "Ali Baba" and "1,000 Nights" or "The Garden of Eden."
There are three types of rugs: the first of these are woven by nomadic tribes and used to sit on. These have geometric patterns. The classic rugs will have floral or intricate patterned designs, prized for palaces and marble floors.
Then there are the kilim rugs, which are flat woven, a tradition dating back 7,000 years. They use natural dyes including walnut shells, roots and melon seeds. The melon seeds make black dye.
Akyuz, giving a mini-lecture, suddenly had an inspiration. "Will you please bring me one of the silks," he asked the handlers. They returned with a startling blue, yellow and green patterned three by five which Akyuz immediately scooped up and spun across the room like a Frisbee. "Look," he said, "It's changed colors." And indeed it had, darker with a totally different cast, not recognizable from its earlier counterpart.
"This is the kind of rug we have in Hereke," he said. Hereke is a special area of Turkey where sultans come to get silk rugs for their palaces, only the best, costing in the five digits numbers.
The rugs at Lapis range from $100 to $50,000 Akyuz said. The finer the rug, the more knots per square inch, the dearer the cost. The tribal rugs are cheaper because they are woven from wool which, being thicker, cannot be woven so finely.
The Turkish rugs are woven by young women who learn it from their mothers, where the art is passed down from generation to generation. With some of the silk rugs having up to 638 knots per square inch, they can take two years and more to create.
Korur said the art is becoming more precious or scarce, because school is now compulsory in Turkey and young women want an education. Though the rugs come from Iran, China and Pakistan, it appears both Korur and Akyuz favor their native Turkish rugs.
Lapis has stores from Turkey to Venice and Milan, and one just opened in Cozumel, Mexico. But the Havensight location is the flagship Caribbean store, Korur said. It is ideal for the cruise ship business, which he also courts on the Mediterranean.
Korur moved from Turkey to St. Thomas last October, and has finally become acclimated. "It took a while," he said. "It's different from Turkey, but I love the weather." And he likes St. Thomas. Next week he is opening another store on the waterfront in the former Burger King location at the corner of Raadets Gade.
To make a reservation for the free rug lecture, call 774-3013. To have a rug delivered, give Korur the address and the carpet, he said, will fly there.

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