By ALEX JACKS
Society places a large amount of worth in history, especially when that history comes in a tangible form. History can be in the pages of a book, the halls of a home, or even in the threads of a rug.
But few people actually have the opportunity to play a hand in the preservation of history. The employees at George Bell Rug and Restoration Company, including new owner Greg C. Smith, have that opportunity.
George Bell Sr. established the George Bell Rug and Restoration Company in 1946 after returning from World War II with the hopes of preserving heirlooms, Smith said.
“He decided he was going to create a business,” he said. “He was very intrigued by the rug cleaning process and thought it would be a great business to establish in Jackson.”
In order to become proficient in the trade, Bell worked for free for another rug cleaning and restoration facility for six months, Smith said.
“He was an engineer at heart,” he said. “He knew how to design. This was the perfect type of business for him. He built it up to be pretty well-known.”
Following Bell’s retirement, his children ran the company until selling it to Smith in January.
“I was blessed with a successful medical career for 22 years so I decided to retire in 2016,” Smith said. “I had put word out on the street that I was interested in purchasing a long-tenured business here in Jackson. Through mutual friends, the Bell children and I were introduced. They were looking at finding a buyer that would allow the company to maintain itself as a family-owned business and keep the George Bell name.”
After much discussion, the Bells and Smith agreed they were a good match for each other.
“One thing led to another and here I am — six months into owning the George Bell Rug and Restoration Company and celebrating its 70th birthday,” Smith said.
Despite only owning the company for a short time, Smith aspires to expand it throughout the state and beyond state lines.
“In previous years, rug delivery and pick-ups would be made throughout the state on Tuesdays and Thursdays,” Smith said. “Now, we’re on the road five days a week. I’ve hired more drivers to expand our coverage of the state. You can find us in every part of the state at least every week or every two weeks. As far as expansion on the short-term, I hope to be in every part of the state at least on a weekly basis and to hire more employees.”
Smith’s long-term goals include opening a second location in another Southern state.
“All of this is a very delicate cleaning process,” Smith said. “I think the process the Bells established over the years can be recreated to cover a broader area to serve more customers. We are really one of the few specialists recognized in the mid-South.”
The motivation to expand George Bell Rug from the value customers place on the restoration and cleaning of these heirloom rugs, Smith said.
“I think one of the big draws to our company is that we view rugs as heirlooms,” he said. “We base the value of the rug on what it means to the customer. There are a lot of rugs that are really old that our artisans have the ability to restore. By restoring these rugs, we are maintaining history for these families.”
When a customer brings a rug to the George Bell Rug, it undergoes a process, Smith said.
“When rugs are brought in we do a complete inspection,” he said. “We check the dimensions and look for any restorative issues. Once they’ve been checked and put in the computer, we bring them to our high system blower, which we use to blow off loose dirt.”
From there, all of the rugs — whether it’s hand-woven, wool, machine-made or synthetic — are moved to the wash pit.
“That’s where we do everything by hand,” Smith said. “We wash all our rugs in the wash pits the same way. We wash them as many times as it takes until the water left in the pit is clear. After the cleaning process has been completed, we hang all our rugs throughout the facility. We’ve got multiple skylights that allow the rugs to dry naturally. A lot of times, the drying process is at the mercy of the weather, especially the high humidity we have in the Southeast.”
Following the cleaning process, any rugs that need to be restored move to the artisan’s table, Smith said.
“We have two artisans here,” he said. “Between them, they have right about 50 years of experience. This is a true art form and it is a trade. Any type of restorative work that needs to be done, they can do it. They can repair just about any type of rug material.”
Once restored or cleaned, the rugs are wrapped and scheduled for delivery or pickup, Smith said.
On average, the George Bell Rug cleans and restores 100 rugs a month, Smith said.
“That number varies,” he said. “It’s hard to put a finger on an exact number. According to my employees though, the past six months have been the busiest it has been in over 15 years.”
Smith said he hopes to continue the increasing trend in order to serve more customers in preserving their heirlooms and family history.