My name is Gregory Kasparian. I am the third-generation president and owner of Turco Persian Rug Co., but I have recently retired. My daughter Jessica joined us about five years ago and is now the new president and taking us on to new levels.
My mom came over when she was about 15 and worked as a housekeeper, and my dad came over—I think he was maybe 18—and, actually, he worked in Ryan’s Art Gallery on Jarvis Street holding up paintings that were being auctioned off. He got to know the original owner of Turco Persian Rug Co., and that’s a connection that was made very early on. But it was many, many years later that he became part of the business.
During that time my parents met because I think there were maybe a hundred Armenian orphans, most of whom worked on farms as farm helpers. My dad actually slept in the old factory as a night watchman. It was not a factory; it was an old house, where the basement had the floor smoothed out in concrete so they could wash rugs on it. And he slept as a night watchman—free—and then went to this art gallery as part of the help auctioning off Oriental rugs.
I had the affection for Oriental rugs because my parents always had some kind of Oriental rug in their home. In fact, I think the first one was an artificial Oriental rug because as kids you are spilling stuff on it and they didn’t want to put out a real one, so it was what they call a machine-made Oriental, probably from Germany or England or whatever. And they were a lot cheaper in those days, so that’s what they had on the floor. So I grew up with them. There was no wall-to-wall broadloom. When I started in the business in 1961, the wall-to-wall broadloom was just coming into its own.
So when I was going to school, I had no intention of getting into the rug business. It was very labour intensive. I didn’t know that much other than I grew up with them and I liked them. So I took a business course at Western, and then in my third year, I made the decision that I wanted to be my own boss. I saw what it was like to be under somebody else as a boss. You know, if they were a good boss, it was good, but if they were a bad boss, then it was a bad experience. So I made my mind up, and I’ve got the family business. It’s been around since 1906. A perfect match.
Because Toronto had a lot of immigrants, maybe second or third generation, they came over here with an appreciation of handmade Oriental rugs, whether they were Persian or Turkish, which pretty well covered 90 per cent of the rugs rather than just wall-to-wall broadloom.
First of all, you can raise kids on an Oriental rug: they can throw up on it, they can spill their porridge on it. You get a towel and a little bit of soap and water, and you can wipe it up. On, let’s say, wall-to-wall broadloom or a plain rug, you’d have a terrible time removing a stain. Although there are tricks to doing it, you’d have a spot on your rug. Whereas on an Oriental rug, the spot could be there, but it looks like part of the design.
One of the original families in Toronto—they were of, I believe, Armenian background living in France. They immigrated in the late 1800s. And they opened up a rug, an Oriental rug store. And I remember Eaton’s College Street, where I worked a couple of summers, had a very large Oriental rug department—the biggest in Toronto. And, of course, Eaton’s name always stood behind it, so people felt very safe knowing that, if they bought a rug and didn’t like it, they could bring it back.
So I worked there under a fellow from Holland by the name of Mr. Korteniar. He hired me a summer or two before I came into the business, not as a salesman but just as a busboy—you know, because rugs are heavy: there’s a lot of physical work involved. So I worked there for a couple of summers, and that’s where I learned quite a bit about the rugs because they labeled every rug: the name, country of origin, the style, the price. So I got familiar with the rugs, and then more and more stores opened in Toronto, a lot of them by Armenians and others as well, and Toronto became almost as well known for selling rugs and antique rugs as New York. And we always had a good reputation.
My dad always did an excellent job, and Eaton’s would mention Turco Persian for years and years. We advertised with not one second on the radio or one column in the paper, but with Eaton’s recommendations and people just being happy with our work. We’d get people saying, “Well my grandmother used your company, so, you know, I know you’re good,” or, “I got the recommendation through Eaton’s.”
A gentleman by the name of Max Allen used to come here, and I think he bought a few antique rugs from us. And when the Textile Museum opened—and I think there was a display at a home show, and he needed some antique rugs to hang on the wall or display—he came over here and had a look, and we loaned him maybe three, four, five antique Oriental rugs.
Interviewer: Natalia Nekrassova, Curator
Others present: Adrienne Costantino, Curatorial Assistant
Date and time of interview: Friday, March 28, 2014, 3–3:40 p.m.
Location of interview: Collector’s home