Washington rug dealer Mohsen Nejad's voice crackled with nervousness.
"Tonight, I am looking for trouble. I have to have myself ready for remarks," he says, anticipating the rug auction he was planning that night in a Cleveland motel. "Maybe 60 people will come tonight. That is not too good and that is because of the political problems."
Because of those "political problems" -- the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran -- life has not been the same for the 28-year-old Nejad, an Iranian native and one of approximately 20 Persian rug dealers in Washington area.
Since followers of the Ayatollah Khomeini seized the embassy Nov. 4, many of the dealers here say they have experienced a sharp drop in sales and sudden increase in hostility from the Americans in their stores.
After all, the rugs, costing $300 to $6000 each, were considered a sound investment and many Americans were literally socking away their cash in the rugs.
As recently as three weeks ago, Nejad was placing newspaper advertisements, touting his rug auctions and the wide selection of rugs in his inventory.
New, Nejad says, his newspaper ads, which refer obliquely to "the turmoil in Iran," elicit hate mail. "Hell, no, Persian goods." "Shame on you for selling Iranian goods," say some of the letters received by his office on Old Georgetown Road in Bethesda.
Auctioning the rugs, which had in recent months become a weekend staple at many Washington suburban motels, has ceased.
Although Nejad says he auctioned carpets "with some success" in the South last week, his younger brother and business partner, Masoud, says they have been forced to cut back on the auctions.
"We should have had an auction (in Washington) today or tomorrow," says Masoud. "But now, this is not a good idea. We are trying to call on customers. We will have to wait until the customers are less nervous."
Earlier this month, the Nejads found some of their hard-won business contacts on the auction circuit were going sour.
"At Pittsburgh, the manager. . . had an anti-Iranian merchandise attitude," said Mohsen Nejad, describing an auction held during the first week of the crisis in that city's Airport Hilton Hotel. "He gave my people a hard time. He added cost to a room we have rented before. When we asked why, the manager said: 'You go ask ayatollah.' It was unbelievable to me."
Other rug merchants reluctantly admit that business is off, but profess to be uncertain why.
"Yes, I would say business is down by 20 percent (compared with last year)," said Ali Adabi, a Howard University educated chemist-turned-carpet merchant, who runs a carpet wholesale store in Bethesda.
Even so, Adabi, who refuses to discuss the Iranian crisis ("I just know rugs and chemistry," he says) concedes the events in Tehran have hurt his business.
"A lady came in the other day," he said. "When I told her they were Persian carpets, she put her checkbook back in her purse. "I didn't know it was Iranian," she said.
"Things like this have only happened twice. My regular customers have been calling me at home to see if everything is okay," he quickly added.
Despite the current depressed market, many of the rug merchants say they are confident that once the crisis with Iran passes, business will be as good-if not better-than ever. Their present inability to import any more of the handwoven rugs could only fuel demand for them in coming months, the merchants contend.