“We’re still figuring out what to do,” said a local importer of rugs from Iran. “Hopefully big changes come.”
On Wednesday afternoon, Dodd Raissnia watched an employee roll up one of his signature Iranian felt rugs at Peace Industry, an inconspicuous shop that Raissania and his wife, Melina, own at 2235 Mission St. near 18th Street.
The rug was, in fact, among the last in a batch of 150 to be sold before Peace Industry closes its doors and moves to Stockholm, Sweden, where there are currently no restrictions on carpets imported from Iran.
Peace Industry is leaving the Mission — and the United States — because, this month, the Trump administration reinstated sanctions on Iran, prohibiting all transactions with that nation involving U.S. dollars, precious metals, coal, aluminum steel, and commercial airliners, as well as the imports of Iranian foodstuffs. And, yes, rugs.
“They’re crazy!” Raissania said when asked about the sanctions.
After going on a brief tirade about John Bolton, President Donald Trump’s national security advisor, Raissania declined to further comment for Mission Local’s article. But Peace Industry’s plight in San Francisco was amply laid out on its website.
“We are so sad to have to inform all of you that we will have to close Peace Industry after the new sanctions come into effect in just a couple of months,” reads a June 1 blog post, less than a month after Trump announced his intention to withdraw from the Nuclear Deal.
The new sanctions took effect August 6. A second wave that restricts the purchasing of Iranian oil and business with Iranian banks will begin in November.
As the sanctions settle in, small businesses dealing in Iranian goods are strapping in for yet another era when imports like pistachios and rugs are restricted.
In fact, Iranian rugs, pistachios and caviar were allowed into the U.S. starting in 2000 with an exemption — until 2010, when the Obama administration imposed new sanctions that eliminated the exemption. That is, until five years later, when the United States and Iran struck the Nuclear Deal that lifted certain sanctions if Iran agreed to limit its nuclear program.
In May, the Trump administration announced that it would no longer honor that deal.
“The new sanctions Trump reimposed directly affected the import of rugs and pistachios,” said Sina Toossi, a research fellow with the National Iranian Council in Washington, D.C. “These two industries have been hit by the new sanctions.”
Toossi said, however, that the two industries are relatively small, and, in the three years since the sanctions were lifted with the signing of the Nuclear Deal, the Iranian rug and/or pistachio industry did not have time to completely take off in the United States.
“In terms of broader trends of these business closing down, it’s going to be limited to the niche industries of pistachios and carpets,” Toossi said. “There wasn’t that much trade between U.S. and Iran before the deal, and that didn’t change much after the deal.”
For Pak Oriental Rugs in SoMa — which carries more than 1,000 rugs from Iran — the fluctuation of Iranian imports is nothing new. “They’ve been imposed longer than they’ve been removed,” said Ahmed Butt, whose family owns the store.
In the last 30 years, he said, embargos on Iranian products have been lifted some three times. During the periods when Iranian goods are allowed in the country, “we stockpile,” Butt said.
At Peter Pap Oriental Rugs in the Financial District, Ben Banayan, a consultant for the company, said the sanctions will make it harder to sell antique Persian rugs internationally. Any carpet deemed to have originated the Iran region — even though it could have been produced hundreds of years ago and kept in the United States for centuries — is now illegal to sell and export to international buyers, he said.
“If someone in Italy, Germany or South America … would like to buy a piece from us, we will have to tell them we can’t go through with deal because we can’t export the piece,” he said — even if, for example, it was manufactured in 17th-century Persia and retrieved from an estate sale in New Jersey.
“Buying antique rugs that have been in the West, sometimes for centuries, has nothing to do with supporting the regime,” he said.
Banayan, who is of Iranian descent, added that the sanctions further hurt the antique-rug industry because collectors who have salvaged antique Persian rugs in the United States are afraid to send carpets out of the country for repair. “People are definitely confused about what they can do,” he said.
This, Banayan said, limits the supply, which counterintuitively reduces the carpets’ desirability among decorators. “Without a reliable supply, the decorators go toward other people” and products, he said. “A lot of the business has suffered because of this.”
Still, Banayan said, much of Peter Pap Oriental Rugs’ business occurs within the United States. “It doesn’t affect us all that much because we have the supply here,” he said.
But Shaghayegh Cyrous, a local artist and Iranian native, in 2014 started collaborating with her mother, who is based in Tehran, to sell unique bags and carpets made by female weavers in Iran. The U.S., fortuitously, lifted some of its sanctions on Iran shortly after Cyrous’ business, Klozar Weaving, was formed.
“We … planned to create a bridge between Iranian weavers with artists who are focusing on textile in the U.S. to see what would be the outcome,” she said, noting that the project was aimed at helping female weavers move up in society, and that the designs they created were specific to their villages and had never before been seen in the west.
Still, she said, even when the sanctions had been lifted, getting the carpets and bags across the border was still hit and miss: In January, 2018, U.S. Customs seized a shipment of her products. It took four months to get them back, she said.
Cyrous applied with the Treasury Department for an Office of Foreign Assets Control license so she could import the bags hassle-free. She had possessed the license for only two months before the new sanctions took effect — and before a new shipment of her inventory could arrive. (One bag or carpet can take up to two months to weave.)
Now, she said, her family’s enterprise is in limbo. “We’re still figuring out what to do,” she said. “Hopefully big changes come.”
For his part, Raissnia, the owner of Peace Industry, later told Mission Local he’s not quite sure when he’s off to Stockholm. He guessed he’d leave when the last of his rugs are sold.
“It’s not like we planned any of it,” he said. All of this happened to come as things were going well: “when business was booming.”