Retail Notebook: Rug cleaner's roots run deep
By CRAIG HARRIS P-I REPORTER
Try as she might, Thea Sand just couldn't get away from the family business.
Now, she has no intention of leaving.
The president of Emmanuel's Rug & Upholstery Cleaners is the fourth generation to operate the venerable Seattle-based company, which has been in business for a century.
"I thought my parents were going to sell it, retire and be like normal people," Sand said with a laugh.
The sale, however, never occurred, and Sand was asked to come back in 2002 -- after being away from the business for more than two decades -- to help run things after her mother became ill. Five years later, Sand said she loves her job and plans to stay involved for two decades more before turning over the company to her son, 21-year-old Ryan, and daughter, 24-year-old Trista, who both work for her.
"In rug terms, I become semi-antique this year when I turn 50 in May," Sand said. "I can see myself doing this for another 20 years."
Sand said the company, headquartered at 1105 Rainer Ave. S., has 13 employees and revenue between $800,000 and $900,000 annually. Along with cleaning Oriental rugs by hand at the shop, Emmanuel's has three on-location carpet cleaning trucks and restores antique rugs.
The company also sells imported rugs and has an upholstery cleaning operation.
Emmanuel's primarily serves greater King and southern Snohomish counties, but Sand said carpets are shipped from Florida, Alaska and Canada to be cleaned.
Tom Hill, executive administrator for the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification, said Emmanuel's has one of the best reputations in the Northwest.
He also said it's unique for Sand to be running Emmanuel's because very few women operate rug cleaning businesses.
Hill did not have precise ownership figures by gender, but the Restoration Industry Association, a Maryland-based trade group for cleaning and restoration, estimates the figure for female ownership is less than 10 percent.
"It's always been thought of as a male business, but it's changing over time," said Hill, whose non-profit certification organization is based in Vancouver, Wash.
Barry Weir, Emmanuel's plant manager who will have worked 30 years for the company in September, believes the business has been around so long because of the focus on customers.
"We want our clients to come back, so we treat them like family," Weir said. "Our best advertising is word of mouth."
Weir said the company has had some distinguished clients, including the Seattle Sonics, who had their 1977-78 Western Conference Champions banner cleaned, and Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates, who had a dining room rug altered.
A 1963 newspaper story noted that other customers included William Boeing, founder of the famous aircraft company, and D.E. Frederick, one of the co-founders of the Frederick & Nelson department store chain.
John Emmanuel, an Armenian immigrant from Constantinople -- now Istanbul, Turkey -- founded the company after coming to the U.S. in the early 1900s.
Thea Sand's great-grandfather opened Emmanuel's Rug & Upholstery Cleaners in downtown Seattle.
Three years after he arrived at Ellis Island, where immigration officials shortened his last name from Emmanuelian, he brought his wife and two boys to Seattle.
In 1907, Emmanuel began selling rugs door to door from a streetcar, and then he got a $1,000 unsecured loan from a client to open a showroom. He later opened a cleaning plant, and the business was handed down to his son Bob who hired a 16-year-old named Gene Sand to clean carpets.
After serving in the Army in Korea, Gene came back to Seattle and married Bob's daughter, Joyce, who had served in the Marine Corps.
The business was passed on to Gene and Joyce, who returned to Seattle around 1975 after moving to Reno, Nev., where they had a different carpet cleaning business.
Thea Sand had worked for her parents in Nevada, but she went off to the University of Nevada when her folks came back to the Northwest.
Sand then married, moved to California, had children, divorced and remarried.
Five years ago, while living in Oakland, Calif., with her second husband, Jeffrey Reich, Sand was asked to come to Seattle, where she had lived as a young child.
She said there are no regrets, although she still commutes back to Oakland, where her husband lives.
"I love it. Every day is different, and you meet some of the most fascinating people," Sand said. "And you see some amazing rugs and textiles. ... How could you go wrong?"
IF YOU GO
Emmanuel's Rug & Upholstery Cleaners
Address: 1105 Rainier Ave. S., Seattle
Hours: Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday, 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Closed Sunday
Web site: emmanuelsrug.com
P-I reporter Craig Harris can be reached at 206-448-8138 or firstname.lastname@example.org.