Walking into Rubaiyat on 17th Avenue is like walking into a fairy-tale of handmade treasures, curious works of art, and hard-to-find objets d’art. At the centre of this fairy-tale is Morgan Haight, one of Rubaiyat’s managing partners who, with her hard-working brother, mother and father, have been cultivating the store’s worldly – if not delectably epicurean – ethos since the store opened on 17th Ave. 33 years ago.
With a great eye for detail and discovery, Morgan, a second-generation Haight working at Rubaiyat since 2006, has been maintaining the store’s collection of jewellery and art glass with such aplomb that there’s little wonder why her clientele keep coming back for more.
We met Morgan at Rubaiyat to talk shopping, favourite restaurants, and the secret ingredient to a happy and healthy business.
Through the eyes of a second generation Haight, how has Rubaiyat changed since your parents first opened shop in the ’70s?
Morgan: “In the ’70s, it was a really tiny space. Rubaiyat started as a small gallery space on Stephen Avenue where my parents sold ceramics, jewellery and hand-crafted goods. It was a small craft store and over the years it evolved to selling anything unique and handmade. We try to bring objects into Calgary from all around the world; things that our clients have never seen before or been exposed to yet. That way, we get to work with lesser-known artists, which we love doing.”
When did Rubaiyat move to its 17th Avenue location?
“I was just born when my parents moved to this location and I’m 33 years old now. My parents moved into the [left] side of the building, and over time, they purchased the whole building, so now we own the building. Our other location is on 10th Avenue and that’s where we do our custom stained glass.”
What’s the secret to a successful business?
“Family, most definitely. Rubaiyat is a family affair. My mom works the floor here with us, as does my brother, and my dad works behind the scenes. We work well together and we all bring something different to the table. I’m interested in jewellery and glass, whereas my mom loves pewter and my brother is more into wood. Our different tastes help us cover all types of different buyers because we all see something different – we make it work together.”
What are some of Rubaiyat’s stand-out pieces?
“Definitely our line of jewellery. Art glass would come in at a close second, followed by our custom stained glass, which does really well.”
Where did the name Rubaiyat come from anyways?
“Rubaiyat is a book of Persian hymns and illustrations by Omar Khayyam. My grandfather carried that book through the war with him and he came home with it. He played a huge role in helping my parents open the store, so when [the store] opened, they decided that they would name the store in honour of him.”
What brought Rubaiyat to 17th Ave?
“My parent’s always said that 17th Avenue was very up-and-coming. When we started, we knew we wanted to be a stand-alone store; we don’t belong in a mall. 17th Avenue is the best venue for a retail space and it’s the best place to be. We’re surrounded by so many unique stores with such a unique clientele: it’s a mix of students, families and designers. Our 17th Ave. location really caters to everyone and it works for us. It’s never boring.”
What’s your favourite part of being on 17th?
“The people, definitely. There’s always a mix of different people and different businesses; you can get everything down here without going to a mall. And the energy of 17th avenue is so different from what you’d expect to find anywhere else. It’s nice because it’s accessible. People can grab a coffee at Analog, wander through different shops, then go for lunch. It’s such a nice area; you’ll meet people you’d probably never meet in your neighbourhood.”
What are some of your favourite hangouts and restaurants on 17th?
“I love Cilantro, and it seems that I’m always going to Brava Bistro for dinner. It’s right across the street, so whenever we have jewellers or artists in town, we take them there. For clothes, I love Primitive Culture, and Gravity Pope is lovely. The Coup is pretty awesome for drinks and food. There’s really nothing bad around here; they’re all winners, to be honest. And Una is so delicious.”
What one thing would you recommend people check out here?
“Our store changes every season. We’ve set up our business to be more like an art gallery than a retail store – if you come in every season, you’ll always see something different, so we just encourage people to come in. And we have the largest selection of art glass in North America in one location.”
Describe your perfect day on 17th.
“First I’d start at Analog for a coffee (it’s such a nice space!) and then I’d probably move on to Primitive Culture for some shopping, then over Purple Orchid for a lovely flower bouquet, and then I’d maybe get a beer or a Caesar at National for lunch to keep going. And then I’d check out all the stores. There’s so many places I haven’t even been to yet – I’m excited to have Corbeaux Bakehouse right next door to us too. Then I’d probably end my day with a nice dinner at Brava Bistro.”
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