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Astoria Characters: The Family Who Lives Above the Store

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The glass door to Astoria Carpet stands wide open in welcome. Eleanor Kazas is watching the people pass by, but she won't be doing this for long. Today, and every day, she has a lot of orders to tend to.

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Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Eleanor joined the family business 27 years ago.

Her husband, Sotiris Constantinou, is the one who runs this store, but he's a little late. Once he arrives, she'll go to her post at Carpet Time, their other Astoria store.

"We're a real mom-and-pop business," she says. "Yes, this means we live above the store. Our three grown children still live with us. So does my mother-in-law. It's convenient."

Eleanor and Sotiris (Steve is much easier to say, so everyone calls him that) spend so much time at work that their stores are their second homes. This morning, their daughter Stephanie drops by with Zoey, their shepherd/Great Dane mix; and an uncle settles into the chair by the main desk to shoot the breeze until customers come.

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Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Astoria Carpet, on Broadway, was their first store.

Eleanor, a vivacious woman who was born and raised in Woodhaven, and Steve, an immigrant from Cyprus, met three decades ago at a wedding, where he was the best man and she walked down the aisle as a bridesmaid.

At that time, Steve was a college student who had a part-time job cleaning carpets. He went into business when that store went out of business. First, he bought a steam cleaner and worked door to door. Then he rented a warehouse, filled it with carpets and made house calls, samples in hand.

Eleanor, too, was a student who eventually embarked upon a career in advertising sales.

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Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Steve is an immigrant from Cyprus.

By the time he and Eleanor tied the knot two years later, he had not only opened Astoria Carpet, but he also owned the building it's in.

It was pretty much a one-man operation; Eleanor didn't join Steve until the following year, after the birth of the first of their three children.

"I gave up two-hour martini lunches for cold pizza," she says, adding that aside from marrying Steve, it was the best decision she ever made.

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Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Eleanor thrives on work.

In the beginning, Eleanor manned the store while Steve did the installations. His parents, who lived in a separate apartment above the store, took care of their kids. Although Steve's father has passed away, his mother still has dinner on the table for them every night.

Eventually, they saved enough to buy the building next door, too. In 1991, they opened a second Astoria store, Carpet Time, and in spring 2014, they are closing the stores and reopening as Carpet Time in a newly constructed, $3-million 30,000-square-foot building they own that will be the anchor in what Steve hopes to develop into a one-stop home-shopping center that attracts customers all the way from Manhattan.

"It's going to be amazing," Steve says. "It will focus on area rugs, and Eleanor and I will be traveling to Asia and China to pick them out."

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Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Steve says good morning to Zoey.

Eleanor and Steve's fully padded legacy is assured because unlike many small businesses, they have a second generation that is eager to take over. Their daughter Christina started working with them full time a couple of months ago, and it's possible that their two other children will join the family fold later.

There aren't many mom-and-pop carpet stores left in Astoria; the big boxes have bullied them out.

"We've been successful because we work very hard, and we give the personal touch," Steve says. "We have good prices and good product, and the movie studios buy a lot from us."

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Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
He always dreamed of owning a business.

Not that you've noticed, but their carpets have been underfoot stars in a variety of TV shows, including The Good Wife, Hostages, Person of Interest, Orange Is the New Black, The Following, Elementary, Blue Bloods and Boardwalk Empire.

Decades of working and living together seems to work well for Eleanor and Steve.

"He knows when to back off," Eleanor says.

Steve looks at her, and after a slight hesitation, says, "Yes."

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Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Steve's looking forward to opening the new store.

She laughs.

"The reason we can do it is because we never see each other, and when we do, we are too tired to argue," she says. "I can read his mind because we are so close. We fight a lot, but it's always about the business."

Steve nods his head in agreement.

They have become successful enough to only work six days a week. They spend Sundays on Life's Too Short, their 42-foot Silverton Convertible. Sometimes they sail around Manhattan or Manhasset; other times they stick around the marina and barbecue.

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Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Partners in love and in work.

Eleanor and Steve look forward to working as long as life lets them.

"We live, dream and breathe carpets," Eleanor says.

Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at Nruhling@gmail.com.