JC Gerstner is a rug cleaner who pours 200 years of family history into every stitch and swath he restores.
He can tell you the history and importance of every kind of handmade rug, how Armenians brought the art throughout the Persian Empire, and Muslims turned the craft into an important part of their heritage.
Gerstner is the owner of KC Rug Cleaners and Art Restoration on Sixth Street in historic Strawberry Hill. He learned the art as a child from his grandmother, who passed down skills she learned from ancestors who came from the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
When he combined an education in print-making and illustration with those two centuries of family know-how to open the store in 2006, it brought him into a business he loves, providing a unique service to Kansas City rug collectors and other owners of handmade rugs.
Q: How did you get into the business of rug cleaning and restoration?
A: I was from the Hays area. Victoria was my hometown. There was no rug store. When we were kids my grandmother taught me to sew. My dad’s family came from Bukovina, which doesn’t exist anymore, but was in the furthest reaches of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. They knew how to hand-wash and repair rugs. I learned that before I went to college.
Q: What did you learn about rugs after opening your shop?
A: My family never saw the variety of rugs I see here. People collect them, just like baseball cards. There are people in the city who know everything about antiques. There are very few who know much about rugs at all. It is something that sets me apart from a lot of people.
Q: How much work goes into the rugs?
A: I spend anywhere from three to seven days until the rug is done. It’s not like wall-to-wall carpet. It’s a totally different kind of cleaning. I love it. I do.
I have piles of rugs here, and every day I come out here. The dream I thought about blossomed into something I never expected. I can’t imagine doing anything else. I work 10 to 14 hours a day, six days a week and about six hours on Sunday. I grew up speaking German with the Germans out west. If I only worked six days a week I would think I was lazy.
Q: What is something people should understand about their rugs that they might not know?
A: The most valuable piece from Grandma’s house might be her rug. Handmade rugs always carry a value. They can also always increase in value. The machine-made rugs that carry a value are Karastan or Tai Ping.
A regular plastic machine-made rug is worth the value of the wash. Belgiums are plastic and they can make it look like fiber, but it’s synthetic.
A good handmade rug, especially Iranian, Persian and Turkish, Indian and Chinese is a good investment and will gain value.
Q: What kind of mistakes do people make?
A: This is a big trust industry. When I first started I had some clients who came in with their rugs, and they had been taken when they bought, they didn’t know what they were doing. I didn’t like that. I love what I do, and I don’t want anyone to get taken.
Call me or text me a picture. I will tell you everything you want to know about the rug. I had someone call me from Turkey last year and I said, “I think he is asking a little bit too much … sit down and drink a little more tea and get him to come down about another $250.”
I want my clients to feel assured about what they are buying. Even if you decide you don’t want to do business with me.
Q: How often do I need to get my rug cleaned?
A: It depends. You can’t put it to a timeline. You need to judge it on how much traffic passes on it each day. If you have pets, you need to cut that time in half.
The naturally died rugs tend to be very touchy and tedious. But once I spend all the time I do washing and cleaning, and the days I spend there, it may be five years or 10 years until I see you.
Q: How do I know if I have a good rug?
A: Sometimes people want to know if there are some rugs that are not worth it. About one of every four people who walk through my door have inherited something they have no idea the value of it — my hair stands on end. The wonder of it never ends. It is never the same. The repair is not the same. The dying is not the same. The beauty of it is inescapable.
Q: What is it about rugs that you love?
A: What isn’t there? That’s really the truth. I love taking something that’s just … I have a rug in here that’s 200 years old. When I got it, it was pink and brown and gray. When I washed it, the pink turned orange; the gray turned silver; the brown turned gold. How did they do that 200 years ago? I love that. I love the history of it.
Where to find him
JC Gerstner’s KC Rug Cleaners and Art Restoration is at 426 N. Sixth St. in Kansas City, Kan