Bainbridge rug store celebrates ‘after hours’ with islanders

Birgul and Adem Solak in their store Shirvan Rug Gallery, an island fixture for close to 15 years. - Henri Gendreau / Bainbridge Island Review
Birgul and Adem Solak in their store Shirvan Rug Gallery, an island fixture for close to 15 years.
— image credit: Henri Gendreau / Bainbridge Island Review

Adem Solak turned the kebab on the grill as the smell of cooking meat wafted down Winslow Way.

His wife, Birgul, came bearing homemade baklava and platters of potato salad.

“Nighttime, until 12, 11, we are always chopping and cooking,” she said. “We didn’t buy anything all ready. Everything we make, my husband and I.”

The hard work paid off when Adem and Birgul Solak of Shirvan Rug Gallery put on a lively Turkish fête as part of the Chamber of Commerce’s monthly Chamber After Hours program, which provides community get-togethers at island businesses, on June 27.

While the program can sometimes attract paltry crowds at other Bainbridge locales, Shirvan Rug Gallery had no trouble bringing in about 150 people.

“Everybody says our (store) is famous and very crowded. Always,” Birgul Solak said.

The recent celebration held special significance for Shirvan, for this year marks the store’s 15th year on Bainbridge Island.

Passers-by and customers may notice the “Since 1981” stenciling on the front window, which indicates the year the store opened its doors in Istanbul. Shirvan then moved to Seattle and discovered the island when Adem Solak was delivering a rug to a residence on Bainbridge. This inspired the Solaks to move their shop once again in 1998, at a time when their business was surrounded by open land at its east Winslow Way location.

The tighter-knit community of the island was attractive to the Solaks because it allows for a greater interaction between buyer and seller.

In Seattle, Birgul Solak said, “You do not see again your customers. You do not go to house dinner.”

Now, they often invite customers to their home for dinner, and their customers repeat the favor.

“Our customers — very, very friendly. They like us, we like them,” she said.

Shirvan has become a fixture on the island’s main drag, providing expert cleaning and repairing in addition to their high-quality handmade rugs, which hail from India, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan and their homeland of Turkey.

In fact, Adem Solak’s adeptness at appraising rugs, his ability to discern their age and origin, as well as repair them, earned him a Certificate of Excellence from the Turkish government.

And the awards didn’t stop there.

In 2012, Shirvan won the Small Business of the Year award from the Bainbridge Chamber of Commerce, and Birgul Solak said while business was good, it improved after the honor.

But she said it was never really about making money.

“Not everything’s money-oriented,” she said. “We want to stay here. We want to make friends, customers.”

During the interview with the Solaks, one of those friends, the executive director of the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce, walked in. She was unable to come to the celebration the night before, but wanted to offer her congratulations and praise to the Solaks.

“What amazing business people,” she said.

Adem Solak immediately got up and headed to the back of the shop, practicing the hospitality the Solaks and the Shirvan Rug Gallery are known for.

“I make you take baklava,” he told her.

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