Habib, who ran his own consulting business for estate sales and auctions, identifying and certifying the attributes of high-end rugs and carpets, got a frantic call from an importer whose truck had been hijacked and recovered by the San Carlos Police Department. The man needed someone to accompany his firm’s vice president to match the recovered contraband with the inventory list of dozens and dozens of rugs.
“I called every single rug correctly – even those that were misidentified on the inventory list,” Habib says. “I have a gift when it comes to the structures, designs, colors, origins and histories of rugs.”
That home run, and the fast-rising reputation that came from it, landed Habib a gig running a studio at the San Francisco Design Center and laid the foundation for Alexander’s Artisan Rugs, the business he’s owned for 26 years and recently brought back to Mill Valley – along the landmark brick walkway at 1 El Paseo Lane.
Although Habib has remained deeply connected to the 94941 in a variety of ways – regularly running the Dipsea Race, fundraising for the new Mill Valley Community Center in the early 2000s, serving as an auctioneer at events for the likes of of the Rex Foundation, the Mountain Play and Blue Star Music Schools and DJing at benefits and events all over town – relocating his business back to the heart of Mill Valley brings him full circle.
“It has been amazing to re-open our doors here in Mill Valley,” Habib says of the town where he and his wife Sheila have lived for decades. “I always loved this space, and I’d walk by and fantasize about being here – just gorgeous architecturally with great ambiance. I wouldn’t have opened again in Mill Valley if it was a plain vanilla box.”
The journey of Alexander’s Artisan Rugs back to Mill Valley has been a circuitous one, and serves as yet another example of perseverance and flexibility in an ever-turbulent retail industry dealing with the disruption of the Internet and an increasingly fickle customer landscape.
That turbulence began in 2006, when Habib started feeling like he was “trying to outrun a huge wave – very rough financial waters.” He closed his famed local shop at 383 Miller Avenue, a space he completely remodeled and transformed into a community gathering spot that hosted Mill Valley Film Festival events. Habib steadied his overall business, consolidated his focus on his San Francisco space took steps to sell assets, occupy smaller retail spaces and reduce risk.
“I’ve gone from a severe drought in my last year at the Design Center to a steady light rain here – but I am grateful,” Habib says. “But in a world of information overload, I know there’s still great value in my approach. I’m not a traditional salesperson. I’m a consultant, and an educator, and I approach rugs in the context of the customer’s overall design.”
Looking around his cozy space lined with an array of rugs sourced from all over the world, Habib adds, “This is not just some inventory. This is my collection, distilled down from thousands of carpets. My goal is always to listen to the client, educate them and help them identify what is best for them.”
That process is vastly different than it was in past decades, with customers regularly browsing before dashing online to comparison shop on sites like Amazon, Habib says. “I do in a month what I used to do in a day,” he says. “But I have far more managed overhead now.”
Born and raised in Canarsie, Brooklyn, Habib relocated with his family to the Miami area, where graduated high school. He later moved to the Laguna Beach/Dana Point area in southern California, running Thai Teak Flooring & Rugs before moving to the Bay Area in 1981.
The aforementioned encounter with the San Carlos Police landed Habib at the Design Center, where he remained, first as a studio manager and later with his Alexander’s Decorative Rugs business, for decades. He’s also the founder of both rug manufacturer Artisan Looms rug care concierge service RugWerks, and often hosts industry workshops and educational events.
“I’m committed to academia and scholarship in carpets,” he says. “I feel like I have a responsibility to continue to inform people’s consciousness when it comes to carpets.”
He met his wife Sheila, a surgical nurse at Marin General Hospital, at a party in Berkeley, and they’ve been married for 27 years. “She’s just an amazing human being, with me every step of the way,” he says.
Getting his start in southern California before moving to Marin allowed Habib to rub elbows and collaborate with everyone from Hollywood stars and filmmakers to the North Bay’s cadre of rock stars and tech entrepreneurs.
Whether it’s his expertise in the rug world or his seemingly ubiquitous presence at fundraisers and community events as an auctioneer or DJ – he serves on the board of Sara Wasserman’s Music Heals International and says “Music is just in my DNA” – Habib’s roots run deep in Mill Valley. He’s also hard to forget, draped in dapper threads that he accessorizes with hats and scarves.
“I’ve been dressing like this since I was a teenager,” he says with a laugh.
Habib’s shop was named Mill Valley Business of the Year by the Mill Valley Chamber of Commerce in 2000, and he often spearheaded local events and promotional campaigns. “I’m really excited to get back to that,” says Habib, who is hosting, along with his neighbors at El Paseo, The Makery Mill Valley and Bossa Nova Clothing, the Chamber’s September 21st Mixer, and event that will serve as the local business kickoff for the 40th Mill Valley Film Festival, set for Oct. 5-15.
“I’m thrilled to be in this space and have an opportunity to continue to give back to my community,” he says.
The 411: Richard Habib’s Alexander’s Artisan Rugs is at 1 El Paseo Lane. MORE INFO.