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With Heavy Heart, Business Set to Close After 25 Years

"I don't have a stomach for what to do next."

Mahmaud Houshiarnejad said his head was spinning.

He stood near the center of his upscale, Persian rug store, Houshiarnejad's Collection, on Kings Highway East on a recent weekday and admitted he didn't have a clue what he would do next, when his doors closed for the last time and the creditors came to collect what was left.

"My whole, entire life is this business," he said, quietly, as opera played softly in the background. "I worked to grow this business. I don't have a stomach for what to do next. I need to put my brain at rest."

Houshiarnejad, 58, an Iranian who is now a U.S. citizen, said he doesn't blame anyone for his business closing. The economy has not been kind to him recently—a plight for which he is not alone in Haddonfield.

He pointed across the street to the former home of , a business that closed its doors in January after 83 years here. He said local bankers now wear grim faces and shake their heads when asked how soon the economy will turn around.

He doesn't blame anyone, but said some folks in local business and government could have done more.

Help with a landlord

"Perhaps they could have put pressure on my landlord," he said. "I tried to bring expenses down in order to survive. I owed a lot of money to the bank. I took out a second mortgage on my home. But he wouldn't negotiate."

Houshiarnejad said he pays $6,000 a month for his 3,500-square-foot showroom at 119 Kings Highway East. He was paying $15,000 a month a few years ago for a space twice as large. His landlord, Jerry Levin, separated the property into two storefronts in 2010 after Houshiarnejad pleaded with him to do so to reduce his rent.

, a furniture store, now occupies the space next door.

Levin declined to comment over the weekend. He said he will have time to speak later this week.

Houshiarnejad said Levin told him his rent was "not negotiable" because Haddonfield taxes were too high and he owed money to the bank for the property.

Meanwhile, the clock continues to tick on Houshiarnejad's final days in business. He has slashed prices by up to 70 percent on the hundreds of hand-woven carpets still stacked in piles on the floor around his shop. He said the prices now range from $400 to $50,000. The store will close before the end of the month, Houshiarnejad said.

Haddonfield Mayor Tish Colombi said she stopped into Houshiarnejad's shop recently to tell him how sorry she was he was closing.

"They were absolutely awesome and so gracious," said Colombi, who said she and her husband have bought five rugs from Houshiarnejad over the years. "I'll never forget what they did for my daughter's wedding."

Colombi said she had one of the their rugs cleaned before the wedding. When it returned, it had a chemical smell. She said Houshiarnejad and his brother, Hamid, who has since passed away, rushed to her home before the wedding reception, gave her a carpet to use and returned her rug afterward, free of smell.

Colombi said she wishes there was more the town could do to help businesses like Houshiarnejad's to survive, especially in a tough economy.

"It's crushing that some businesses like his can't make a living here any more," she said. "One of the things I've always done is to tell people if they need a rug, to buy it there. Shopping in our town may cost a little more but it supports our town."

The market will decide

The borough has a tax-funded business improvement district, the Partnership for Haddonfield (PfH), to entice businesses to town and retain them. Houshiarnejad's neighbor, Summit Sampler, received several thousand dollars for rent abatement and to help pay for the cost of interior construction.

"Next door, they got credit as a incentive to pay for advertisement, rent," Houshiarnejad said. "For me, they didn't offer nothing."

The PfH offers one-time grants to businesses who are establishing or expanding local shops. Officials said some business owners may not always have a clear view of what the borough can and can not do to help them.

"We try to help merchants," said Commissioner Jeff Kasko, a PfH board member. "We collect their trash without them having a commercial hauler and we haven't raised the PfH tax since the (business improvement district) was started seven years ago."

Kasko said the retail recruiter, a part-time position of the PfH, can and does approach landlords to try to help negotiate rent. Lisa Hurd, the former retail coordinator and recruiter, did intervene on Houshiarnejad's behalf without success, Houshiarnejad said.

Kasko said businesses like the rug shop and jewelers are especially susceptible to economic downturns and there is little the borough can do about it.

"At the end of the day," Kasko said, "the market is going to decide."

matt dougherty May 14, 2012 at 01:47 PM
If he votes tell himto vote for Obama again !
Scott May 14, 2012 at 01:54 PM
On one hand, I feel badly that any business is forced to close for economic reasons. But on the other hand, I feel they caused their own problem due to greed. So many things are over-priced and marked up to absurd levels. I understand that rent and other expenses are high, and that makes retailers charge high prices. But sometimes selling *more* inventory at *lower* prices actually results in higher revenue. Note the difference between revenue and profitability. Adequate amounts of the former can keep a business operating. Pushing the amount of the latter as high as possible is risky, and can result in a business closing due to lost customers. In the past year, I've seen several lunch-focused food establishments, near Kings Highway, go out of business. This did not surprise me at all. A meal that reasonably should have cost $6-7 was priced closer to $9-10. In a good economy, and in an area with an affluent demographic, those higher prices might be tolerated. But with things the way they've been for a few years, a larger percentage of people is simply not willing to spend $10 on lunch, especially when there are cheaper alternatives nearby. I think it's time for merchants and retailers to stop trying to suck every last dollar out of consumers. Instead, offer good quality items at *reasonable* prices. You'll end up with more repeat business and might even make more money in the long run!
Jeff H May 14, 2012 at 01:56 PM
After months of a vacant store in the future, let's see if Levin, the landlord, thinks he made a good decision about not negotiating with his tenant. He owns a great deal of the retail space downtown, maybe he is part of the problem? It really is all about the landlords after all. Should we be subsidizing them through the Pfh??
ES May 14, 2012 at 04:14 PM
It's unfortunate that there is a clear disconnect between consumers and retailers- a $6 or $7 dollar lunch is not possible when the rents have not been adjusted to reflect the economy. Expenses in Haddonfield far surpass Collingswood, Cherry Hill, and other surrounding towns. Retailers charge those prices because they have to in order to survive. The 'cheaper alternatives nearby' are locations where the rent is cheaper, or they are a corporate chain- which is not the same comparison. The expenses associated with doing business in Haddonfield (as time will show with additional store closings and relocation to more affordable areas) is not worth it unless there is a strong support from the community and government. Currently, I don't believe the community supports the downtown as much as it should, and the government doesn't do all that it could to support the businesses. The immediate and most easily addressed problem is that the landlords are totally deluded about how much their real estate is worth in Haddonfield right now.
Jeff H May 14, 2012 at 10:12 PM
YOU WANT 'GOVERNMENT' TO FIX THE RENTAL MARKET? REALLY? DID YOU SEE HOW LONG IT TOOK 'GOVERNMENT' TO FINISH THE TANNER STREET PROJECT? LET THE MARKET FIX IT. THE LANDLORDS WILL GO BROKE UNTIL THEY LOWER THE RENT TO MEET WHAT THE TENANTS ARE WILLING TO PAY!
Scott May 15, 2012 at 01:15 AM
Actually, Mary, I am a business owner. And I realized pretty early on that I can't just charge whatever I want to, in order to maximize my profit. I had to look at my competitors, determine how their cost/value ratio compared to mine, and price my stuff accordingly. Unless a business is selling something unique, customized, or really hard to find, they're going to have competitors. And with the ease of comparison shopping now, both online and with smartphones, your competitor is just a click away. As bad as this sounds, buyers don't care that you've invested your life savings and put your heart and sole into a business. Today's economy has made people in the "99%" very cost sensitive and business owners have to be aware of that. You say it's important to support mom and pop stores. The cynical voice in my head asks, "Why?". And I think that many people who *try* to do that are actually quite hypocritical. I'd bet that 90% of the stuff they own was made in China. This isn't 1950's America anymore. We all have to compete, often against people who aren't playing fair. And as consumers, we get to vote with our dollars.
Scott May 15, 2012 at 01:19 AM
You says that "Retailers charge those prices because they have to in order to survive." But they're *not* surviving! That's my point - that by charging higher prices, they're actually putting themselves out of business. Yes, it's very expensive to do business here. Landlords may be deluded about the value of their real estate, and they might be in for a rude awakening. But as long as they can continue to find tenants, I don't see rents going down.
Wendy Kates May 15, 2012 at 01:41 PM
Anyone who cares and any merchants left that have any fight left in them need to focus on preventing KIOSKS from being installed on Kings Hwy. Tanner St. had more foot traffic when the street was mud and parking was free. It,s just not going to matter what the cost of an item is if there is no one there to shop. Free parking nights and weekends is big but it is a secret. Every shop window should be advertising this . Every kiosk has " Pay Here" in overkill signage but where are the "Free parking nights and weekends" . Maybe the Partnership would pay for the signs, have the "sign police approve them" and do something that works for the merchants. Getting people into town is number 1. Then you can consider everything else.
Maryann Campling May 15, 2012 at 02:31 PM
Another business closing, another empty store; it's heartbreaking. The "boys on the Beltway" tell us that we are coming out of this recession....I don't see it. With the closed businesses, uncollected real estate taxes, and houses in forclosure around town, the Borough and our citizens must start assessing things in a more common sense manner. And Mary and Wendy, I am in complete agreement with your view and comments....keep fighting the good fight.
Animal Lover, and People Lover May 20, 2012 at 09:54 PM
I told someone at a parking kiosk some Saturday morning, he didn't have to pay, and he said he noticed. The signage must be subtle. I've lived here for many years so I know the drill by heart. I hate them, the kiosks. I put a quarter in a long term parking meter. After I put in the second, a penny fell out, and my coin was not registered. I had to add two more and the Kiosk only gave me credit for the three coins. Don't put anymore parking kiosks in, and cancel the contract when you legally can. I will not pay 50 cents to pay my $2000.00 property tax bill.....every quarter..... I have two rugs by these gracious people....and just wait until current events ruin your life, not just them. I feel for them so much.... It's hard to rent, taxes go up so much every year, that a long term contract can put you in the red, as a landlord. When New Jersey renters complain, it should be addressed to the people that raise taxes as a start.. It's less the local Municipality than indulges by the schools, county, and state. Can you imagine the hammer coming down on our locality with taxes? What our Boro elected officials go through to make it work? And honest hardworking people lose their shirts. Where's the sympathy for everyone around? It's so scary for all of us, all over the US. God Bless the people that try
Maryann Campling May 20, 2012 at 11:32 PM
Well said! I absolutely REFUSE to use the kiosks...I either park at the Acme or in my friend's driveway on Centre. For residents to have to pay at all is outrageous, given our exorbitant taxes. I will miss the rug store, it was a "class act" business and was a real asset to Haddonfield. I wish them good luck and good health. And we residents have got to keep pushing back....and hold people accountable for their actions and decisions. Tuesday's turf war meeting and Wednesday's Brandywine should be a rollicking good time. Don't forget to wear your rubber boots....because the bull---- will be deep!
Wendy Kates May 23, 2012 at 11:28 AM
As part of my job, I have been to every Municipal Bldg. in Mercer, Burlington, Camden, Gloucester and Salem Counties. I do not know of any other Twp. or Boro that has meters or kiosks in their Municipal Bldg. parking lots." HADDONFIELD! PAY HERE, PAY HERE AND PAY HERE"
Pat July 29, 2012 at 03:16 AM
You people dwell on small potatoes problems like zoning and local government funding when the cause of this problem is 95+% global. Unless you change the money and banking system wealth and power will become increasingly centralized, not just at a national level, but at a global level in banks and corporations, and the majority of national governments aligned with them. The banks have no interest in mom and pop. They want standardization and 9+ figure loans. Fewer clients, easier to manage, and bigger chunks to grab in foreclosure if projects fail. Until you abolish the Federal Reserve, abolish fractional reserve banking, and return to a hard currency, the percentage of local businesses failing will rise, and you will all continue to destroy America by voting for the two bought-and-paid-for parties and settling for the status quo, and all the while show up to your local council meetings to hear yourself talk about peanut gallery issues.

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