My neighborhood hasn't been the same since Hassan Rida closed his shop Le Mains d'Or and returned home to Syria a few years back. Selling gorgeous Oriental rugs and beautiful housewares from North Africa and the Middle East, Hassan's shop served as something of a local salon for anyone interested in rugs and kilims, antiquities, Middle Eastern art...or just a cup of tea, a Syrian sesame cookie and a chat. Hassan's sweet French wife, Solange, was often there too, while the Rida boys, Remi and Leith, popped in and out with skateboards, bikes, dogs and friends. Hanging out in the old shop one day, I once saw something so touching: a little boy came in looking for a present for a friend. He was asking the price of this thing and that...then putting it down dejectedly each time heard the answer. Finally Hassan said ''show me what you like best,'' the little boy did...and Hassan gave it to him with a beautiful smile.
Back in Syria, the Ridas missed their life in St. Remy and I was delighted when Hassan dropped by last month to tell me that they've returned...and have opened a small new shop downtown. Hassan is selling the same range of high-quality wool rugs and kilims--from Iran, Turkey and the Caucasus--along with a small selection of lanterns, distinctive blue glasses that he designs himself and other pretty things for the home and garden. Thanks to his strong ties in the industry (Hassan is the seventh generation of his family to work with rugs), he can source rugs and objets from all over the world. He also does appraisals and is happy to offer advice, whether you become a customer or not. The bulk of his business, however, comes from the highly skilled work he does cleaning and repairing fragile rugs and textiles. His clients have included the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and precious pieces are regularly sent to him from all over France.