By Douglas J. Guth
For Tuba Gokoglu, a rug has never been merely a floor covering. As a child growing up in Turkey, rug-making was a source of income for many of the country’s women. It’s no coincidence then that Gokoglu makes a living these days by selling intricately designed goods from Turkey and other parts of the world.
Gokoglu is the founder and owner of Abrash Gallerie, a spacious, brightly lit space lucratively located on the corner of the busy Cedar-Lee arts district in Cleveland Heights. Gokoglu sells oriental rugs and kilims (hand-woven reversible rugs or coverings made in Turkey and elsewhere) along with art, home furnishings, pottery, jewelry, and other decorative items.
The ancient art form of oriental rugs is Gokoglu’s specialty, and her high-ceiling gallery is blanketed with colorful coverings of all sizes. The entrepreneur is somewhat of a latecomer to the retail world, spending a decade in the banking industry before deciding to plant her stake in a new space.
The endeavor has been a fruitful one for Gokoglu, a Brecksville resident whose family immigrated to the United States in 1976. She has flourished at her Cedar-Lee location over the last seven years, garnering a high-end, repeat customer base who have told friends and colleagues about her high-quality wares.
“This has become a destination store,” Gokoglu says in her lightly accented English, pointing to the Cedar-Lee Theatre across the street.
Melding seamlessly into the diverse district has taken some work. Abrash, defined as “the natural and variable change in color that occurs in an oriental rug over time when different dyes are used,” gets its rugs directly from the hands of the women who weave them.
Every carpet in the gallery is personally selected by Gokoglu. Her travels have taken her to bazaars in India, Pakistan, Nepal, and her native Turkey. She only buys rugs from countries with fair labor practices, which effectively eliminates China from her itinerary.
Sure, Gokoglu could likely buy Chinese goods at a cheaper price, but doing so would “diminish the quality of the art,” she says. “You want to make sure the art you’re selling reflects the spirit of the people making it.”
Abrash’s rugs consist of natural dyes and hand-spun wools, giving the gallery authenticity that has gained Gokoglu some corporate customers as well. Walk into any downtown Cleveland law firm or bank headquarters, and you may see one of her carpets.
Before becoming an entrepreneur, Gokoglu spent 10 years in the banking industry herself. She graduated from Case Western Reserve University with a degree in management science, working in the corporate offices of the former National City Bank.
Banking taught Gokoglu about the business world, so when her love for art finally moved her from finance into retail, the transition was not all that difficult. “I’ve wanted to do this for a long time,” she says. “I wanted a change.”
Gokoglu started her first gallery in 2002 at a Cleveland Heights interior design store. After experiencing significant growth, she moved her venture to its current location as a stand-alone business. The rent in Cleveland Heights is reasonable, and the nature of the undertaking makes it practically recession-proof, she says.
Selling oriental rugs offers Gokoglu an important reminder of her faraway homeland. A native of Ankara, Gokoglu moved to Detroit at age 14 at the behest of her father, who was attracted to the glowing promise the United States represented to many immigrants. His young daughter wasn’t thrilled to leave her friends and relatives, at least at first. It took Gokoglu a year to learn English and properly communicate with her peers. Her family finally moved to Cleveland in 1984. Today Gokoglu is the married mother of two twenty-something daughters. Her husband Suleyman is a scientist at NASA Glenn Research Center
Running Abrash Gallerie “ties me back to my home country,” she says. Back in her native land, it would be unusual for a woman to own a rug store. Turkish tradition states that “men shear the sheep, and women spin the wool.” This does not translate into selling the finished product, however.
Gokoglu is glad to break the mold here in northeast Ohio. She believes her gallery is unique locally, and that her clientele want to support a female entrepreneur who’s taken the initiative of launching such an artsy endeavor.
“People want something new and fresh,” Gokoglu says. “They like the authenticity of an independent store.”
For more information: abrashgallerie.com