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-born U.S. citizen, said he doesn't blame anyone for his business closing. The economy has not been kind to him recently—a plight in 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.
Still, he said, some folks in local business and government could have done more.
"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 Levi, 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.
Levi could not offer comment at press time, but said he will later this week.
Houshiarnejad said Levi told him his rent was "not negotiable" because Haddonfield taxes were too high and Levi 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 as much as 70 percent on the hundreds of hand-woven carpets still stacked in piles on the floor around his shop, which now range from $400 to $50,000. The store will close before the end of the month.
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 Houshiarnejad cleaned one of their rugs before the wedding, but that it had a chemical smell afterwards. Houshiarnejad and his brother, Hamid, who has since passed away, rushed to her home before the wedding reception, gave her a loaner carpet, and removed the offending odor from her rug before returning it.
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 borough has a tax-funded business improvement district, the (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 interior construction.
"Next door, they got credit as a incentive to pay for advertisement, rent," Houshiarnejad said. "For me, they didn't offer nothing."
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."
PfH is administered chiefly by a retail recruiter-coordinator, which Kasko said often negotiates with landlords on behalf of local businesses. Houshiarnejad said that former coordinator Lisa Hurd did intervene on his behalf unsuccessfully.
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."