October 10, 2008

Fain’s in Providence Closing Its Doors

By Paul Grimaldi

Nearby business owners are exercising an option to buy the space of the business that sells imported hand-crafted rugs.

PROVIDENCE -- Landmark city retailer Fain's Carpet & Rug will close at the end of the year as a lease technicality requires it to relinquish its longtime North Main Street location.

The Fain family has retailed out of a storefront at 126 North Main St. for about 80 years, with Linda Fain and her daughter Julie Medina the latest members to operate the business that sells hand- crafted rugs from India, Persia, Tibet and Pakistan.

Adjacent business owners are exercising an option to buy the space.

The closing is "bittersweet," said Fain. "It's very emotional for me."

Stylishly dressed in jeans, a printed vest and a sweater top, Fain sat on a pile of carpeting in the middle of the store as she talked about the closing.

"It was just one of those quirky things," Fain said. "Maybe the way things happened wasn't ideal, but everything happens for a reason."

The Fain family has a long history of involvement in the city's business and civic life.

In the 1880s, Fain's grandfather, Barnet, started a business as a tinsmith on North Main Street. Around the turn of the century, Barnet and his wife, Ida, moved to the city's Silver Lake section. Ida ran a hardware store there on the first floor of the family's home. They later moved the store to Olneyville.

By the 1920s, the store had been given over to 2 of the couple's 10 children -- Archie and Irving. The brothers moved it to its present location, near what is now Roger Williams National Memorial, in the 1930s.

Decades later, the brothers handed over the business to their sons Barry W. Fain and Barnet "Bunny" Fain.

Both Archie and Irving were members of the Jewish Federation of Rhode Island and supporters of Miriam Hospital, among other initiatives. Barry Fain is a member of the Capital Center Commission and Barnet formerly was chairman of the Lifespan hospital network.

Linda Fain served as a member of the East Greenwich Town Council for two years, before going to work in the business in 1980.

She quickly discovered her favorite part of the business.

"I liked traveling," said the 64-year-old grandmother. "That was the most fabulous experience. I'm so grateful to have been able to do that traveling to Third World countries."

The Fain family ran stores in Johnston, East Providence, Middletown, Warwick and Avon, Conn., before competition took its toll on the business.

In the 1990s, hardware chain Home Depot, Georgia Carpet Outlet and others entered Rhode Island.

Fain's had to change with the times, Medina said.

"Fain's used to be the place to find flooring," Medina said. "We had to become a niche."

So the family focused on selling imported handmade rugs that are as much works of art as they are utilitarian flooring. The weave, the texture, the feel of the thick piles separates them from machinery-made, mass-produced carpeting, she said.

"The thing with our rugs," Medina said, "is you have to see [them]."

She worked for the business in the 1990s before going off to get her MBA from the University of Rhode Island. She returned to the business five years ago.

Mother and daughter remain undecided about whether to continue the business at some other location, they said. They will retain the business' name and corporate structure to keep open that option.

"The main issue with reopening right now is the economy," Medina said.

The business needs to be "reinvented," she said, to prosper in a crowded market.

"As a single mom do I want to be working that hard?" said Medina, a mother of two young children.

Fain will teach a one-day class in rug appreciation at the Rhode Island School of Design this winter. She expects to be back in business at some point.

"I'm not leaving this field," she said. "I just can't not work."

Perched on that pile of carpets on Wednesday, Fain sounded content to sit shiva for her business, chatting with friends and old acquaintances who drop by to share stories about her family or pick up a bargain during a store-closing sale.

"Everybody is getting a plus out of this closing," Fain said. "When it's your name behind a store for several generations you have to do it right. These are people I'll be seeing for years; I'm closing the store the right way."

Since the 1990s, Fain's Carpet & Rug in Providence has concentrated on selling high-quality handmade rugs from India, Persia, Tibet and Pakistan. The store will shut at the end of the year. The Providence Journal / Kathy Borchers

After eight decades, Fain's will be leaving 126 North Main St., Providence, at year's end. The Providence Journal / Kathy Borchers

Store operators Julie Medina, left, and her mother, Linda Fain, have "bittersweet" feelings about the closing of Fain's Carpet & Rug, a longtime Providence business. The Providence Journal / Kathy Borchers [email protected] / (401) 277-7356

Originally published by Paul Grimaldi, Journal Staff Writer.

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