Discoveries Egyptian Imports is an adventure that began back in the summer of 1979, when I went to visit David Brayer, a college friend, who had chosen the American University in Cairo for his junior year abroad. We traveled through Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and Turkey, purchasing handcrafts that we hoped to sell and pay for our trip. When we returned home, we set up booths at craft fairs, lugged suitcases full of trinkets into any kind of retail store that might be interested, and even took our chances street vending in New York City. It was great fun, and we had dreams of growing into a "real company" someday.
In the summer of 1980, we joined forces with brothers Todd and Paul Berry, whom we had met in Cairo, and decided to create a small company called Middle East Imports. The master plan called for one partner to travel to some exotic locale to purchase ethnic handcrafts, while the others stayed home to sell our stock. By September of 1980, however, we had given a ton of effort, and although we were doing a great job of buying goods, we were finding no success selling our wares to anyone other than a few loyal friends. We couldn't resist the lure of more travel, especially into the dazzling history of Egypt so we decided to open a retail store of our own.
With great assistance from family and friends, 'Discoveries – Ancient Arts' opened to the public on November 6, 1980, halfway down a cobblestone alley in Alexandria, Virginia. Since it was our intent to travel throughout the world to buy handcrafts, the name 'Discoveries' seemed to fit: we hoped that every few months the store would have new merchandise from a wide variety of countries.
The plan started to unfold nicely over the next year. We added several West African countries into our itinerary by summer of 1981 and sales were strong. It was at this point that "reality" began to set in. The time, energy, and financial investment began to mount, causing everyone to think twice about the whole plan. By the mid-eighties, all of the other partners left to pursue more lucrative interests and I was on my own, now billing Discoveries as 'Arts of Egypt and West Africa'. I was traveling about 3 months out of the year, settling into a routine of Egypt, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, and Mali as destinations.
I absolutely loved the travel, but the finances remained a struggle, so on the advice of several friends and customers, I attended my first wholesale trade show in 1986. Over the next 5 years, Discoveries evolved into a wholesale business, closing the retail store and focusing our product line, becoming 'Discoveries Egyptian Imports', selling exclusively Egyptian hand-made products to the retail trade.
We’ve spent the last several years working tirelessly to develop products for customers such as the Smithsonian Institution, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Time-Life, Walt Disney, and The Discovery Channel. It gives me great pleasure to be able to offer these wonderful items for sale on our web site. Over the next few years, we intend to honor the original intentions of Discoveries, finding unique crafts and making them available to the public for purchase.
This fall marks our 35th anniversary. I can't help but marvel at how the years have passed, how a 3-month summer trip out of college turned into a career that has been an incredible experience for me. I feel like a great-grandfather when we do all our communication with Egypt via the internet these days, smiling about the years when we'd have to hike to the nearest Telex office, wait an hour or so to get a machine, send a message out, and come back each day for the next 2-5 days until we got a reply.
I've been lucky enough to make more than 150 visits to Egypt, and each time is more enjoyable than the last. It is hard to say what is most inviting to me about Egypt: being welcomed by the culture of open community, entranced by the incredible ancient monuments, traveling back in time in the heart of the old city, marveling at the aquatic gardens of the Red Sea ... it is a wonderful place to visit. Many of our employees have enjoyed Egypt as well, and I trust that our love for Egypt and its people shows in all aspects of our business.
There is a long list of folks who have contributed in ways big and small to help Discoveries survive for thirty years: my appreciation for their efforts gets bigger and broader every day.
There is also a very long list of loyal customers who have purchased our products over the years, making our efforts successful. I am very thankful for that support and look forward to another 35 years of providing top quality service and merchandise to top quality customers.