Affectionately known as “Mrs. B. of Omaha” and measuring just 4 feet 10 inches tall, the late furniture retailer Rose Blumkin lived by a blunt credo:
“Sell cheap, tell the truth, don’t cheat nobody.”
In light of America’s broken borders, the expiration of Title 42, and the return of US Code Title 8, the colorful story of Rose Blumkin deserves to be told once more.
Rose Gorelick was 104 years-old when she died in August of 1998. Born into a poor family in the Russian village of Schidrin near Minsk, she began working in a grocery store when she was 6 – and didn’t stop serving customers for the next 98 years.
While still living in Russia, Rose married Isadore Blumkin, who then emigrated to Iowa in order to escape mandatory service in the army. The couple soon moved to Omaha, where they launched a secondhand clothing store. Rose spoke no English. After they struggled to make a go selling clothes, the Russian immigrant assimilated, borrowed $500 and opened up the Nebraska Furniture Mart in 1933.
The name of the store was a bit misleading. The “Mart” was the family home, where she quite literally put price tags on all the family furniture. Once she paid off her debt, she began buying furniture and carpet from manufacturers and selling it for just 10% above her cost.
The aggressive hustle paid off. She developed a strong and loyal clientele, but she simultaneously incurred the wrath of competitors. In a retaliatory strike, suppliers refused to sell to her. Here’s how she explained her dilemma. The uneven grammar can be attributed to English being her second language.
“I went to Marshall Field in Chicago. I tell them I need 3,000 yards of carpet for an apartment building. I buy it from Marshall Field for $3 a yard, I sell it for $3.95 a yard. Three lawyers from Mohawk take me into court, suing me for unfair trade–they’re selling for $7.95. I go to the judge and say, ‘Judge, I sell everything 10 percent above cost, what’s wrong? I don’t rob my customers?’ He throws out the case. The next day, he comes in and buys $1,400 worth. I take out an ad with the whole case and put it in the Omaha World-Herald: ‘Here’s proof how I sell my customers.’ ”
Rose Blumkin was committed – some might say obsessed. She worked around the clock building her business one sale at a time. By the time she sold her empire to Warren Buffett for $60 million, the store was the largest single furniture outlet in the country. It took up three blocks, 300,000 square feet of display space, 500,000 square feet of warehouse and a 25-acre parking lot. Buffett kept her on to manage the enterprise.
Because founders are often driven, and maybe because Rose was also stubborn, she wound up battling with both Buffett and her grandsons, who were helping run the store. She retired at the age of 95 – but three months later opened up a competing store adjacent to the original one.
“Mrs. B’s Clearance and Factory Outlet” quickly became Omaha’s third-largest carpet store. Eventually, Warren Buffett came calling with flowers and chocolate, patched the rift and acquired the store, merging it with the original.
What does all this have to do with Title 42 and Title 8? American greatness is built on legal immigration – and it works best when hardworking people play by the rules and give back rather than take and exploit.
″Put her up against the top graduates of the top business schools or chief executives of the Fortune 500,” said Buffett. “And, assuming an even start with the same resources, she’d run rings around them.”
And one more thing.
Rose Blumkin cherished America. She appreciated what her adopted country did for her – and she demonstrated it in a unique and inspirational way.
When the Blumkin family, who were Jewish, sat down for dinner each evening, Rose insisted they sing “God Bless America” together before eating.
“God bless America, land that I love, Stand beside her and guide her, Through the night with the light from above,” wrote Irving Berlin.
We desperately need the Divine “light from above” to brighten, guide and direct our efforts as Christians in this increasingly dark and challenging world.
Photo Courtesy Nebraska Furniture Mart