Owner of Stevens Oriental Rugs Perseveres After Husband's Death
Since David Stevens death in 2007, his wife Betsy has worked to continue traditions in the store and at home.
The story of Betsy and David Stevens, founders of Stevens Oriental Rugs, has to be true. If it was presented as fiction no one would believe it.
It began in 1985 in New York City. It ended in 2007, when David died of lymphoma, a type of cancer.
In 1985, Betsy was working on Wall Street, teaching brokers how to use computer terminals and writing speeches and technical documents.
David's long road to New York began in the late 1970s when he fled Iran as the Shah was being deposed and the Ayatollah Khomeini came to power. David's brother was shot and killed in the turbulence.
David managed to get into Turkey and from there to Vienna, where he spent four years. He had been trained in the art of Oriental rug repair and that skill kept him employed.
While in Vienna he met and fell in love with a young American woman who was there for a year of college. When she went home to Philadelphia, it took David a year to get a visa to follow her.
On his arrival he called from the train station in Philadelphia, only to have her tell him she was getting married that weekend. When he lamented that he had come all this way because she hadn't answered any of his letters, she said that should have given him the message. Seeing no future in the East, he headed for California.
But the West Coast life didn't suit Stevens and he headed back toward Boston on Pan American Airways. During the flight, Pam Am workers went on strike and the plane landed in New York instead of Boston.
Luckily, Stevens had a friend in New York to stay with. He met Betsy through the friend and after they became acquainted he asked her on a date. At first they double-dated, giving Betsy time to assess the young man.
Ironically, it was the story of Stevens' lost love that drew her to him. She felt it was heartening that he would tell her about something so personal and it solidified their connection.
David managed to get into the rug business in New York, but had only a small space in a warehouse that was very expensive.
During the course of their dating, Betsy brought him home to Rhode Island several times. David liked the slower pace here and in 1990 asked her brother to look for retail space.
The brother found a spot in the Anjourian building at 333 Main St. in East Greenwich and in 1992 David and Betsy opened for business. They hired a manager to run it until they were able to move to Rhode Island and run the shop themselves three years later.
Stevens had connections with other Iranians in the rug business, but he had made his living in rug repair and it was difficult to make the change to retail. In the Middle East, Betsy said, occupations are fixed and moving from one to another isn't accepted easily, if at all.
The couple persevered, however, and over time their business on Main Street grew.
In 2006 Stevens began having stomach pains and in August he went to South County hospital for five days of tests, which turned up nothing. However one of the doctors was Iranian and during their conversations David told him how one brother had been shot and killed and another had died of lymphoma cancer. The doctor decided to test Stevens for lymphoma and it turned out that the cancer had found him as well.
Treatment began immediately and seemed to be going well. They even found a perfect match for a bone marrow transplant, but during his last chemo session he spiked a fever. Then he got pneumonia and his impaired immune system couldn't fight it off.
Isabelle Stevens, now 10, was a month shy of 7 when her father died. Jasmine, who will be 7 this month, was 3. Betsy Stevens had polio when she was a baby and she favors her right leg as a result. She says polio made her tough and that toughness is helping now.
Betsy knows the rug business, but like many business people, she is unsure about the economy. Cleaning and repair are now a much larger part of what she does, as customers keep what they have rather than trading in for newer or larger rugs. Betsy said the sorts of rugs she sells are made to last and tend to hold their value.
The rugs in the store are handmade. The most expensive rugs are antique Persians, some of which can cost as much as $25,000.
Today, Betsy says her daughters seem to be growing up very fast and she is trying to do everything the way David would have, in the store and in her life. She thinks his loss has been toughest on her kids.
She's found help at Friends Way, a support group for grieving children, teens, young adults and families.
She and the other parents have their own conversations while waiting for their children. She's found comfort in learning her kids are behaving just like the others, doing and saying many of the same things. Some of the things said are hurtful, but for a child who's suffered the loss of a father, that's normal, Betsy's learned.
She says she will get through it all. "I've had a lot of challenges in my life," she said. "I'm a tough bird."