Nebraska Furniture Mart Expanding To Kansas City

Kansas City, KS, August 4-- In the midst of the Great Depression, Rose Blumkin, a Russian Jewish immigrant, borrowed $500 from her brother to open a little furniture store in the basement of a building in downtown Omaha, Nebraska, as reported in the Kansas City Jewish Chronicle. Over the years, that little store--the Nebraska Furniture Mart--has become a giant in the world of retail furniture sales, known for its bargain-basement prices, extensive array of merchandise and top-notch customer service. This Nebraska institution is now making its way down I-29 to the Kansas City area. In mid-August, the Nebraska Furniture Mart will open a 712,000-square-foot retail and distribution facility next to the Kansas Speedway at I-435 and State Avenue West in Kansas City, KS. "Our customers from Kansas City kept on saying 'Come down here, come down here. We want you.' So, we listened to the customers," said Robert Batt, Blumkin's grandson and executive vice president of the Nebraska Furniture Mart. "That's what made a difference here. There are more people here in Kansas City than there are in the whole state of Nebraska. So it was a natural." The new store is a big step for the Nebraska Furniture Mart. "This is the first time in our history that we've ever built a building from scratch," Batt said. "It's designed with the latest and greatest. There's nothing like this in the country." Furniture, electronics, appliances and flooring will all be available under one giant roof. "It's destination shopping where you don't have to go to other stores in order to meet your home-furnishings needs," Batt said. "The selection is bigger than anything that's ever been seen. ... We try to appeal to anyone who walks in here at any price point at any time. We have a high-end design section. But we also have the basics for a couple of kids who are just starting out." Warren Buffett, chairman of the board of Berkshire Hathaway, which now owns a majority interest in the Nebraska Furniture Mart, expressed excitement about the prospects for the Kansas City store in a February 2003 letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders. In the letter, Buffett said: "With 450,000 square feet of retail space, it could well produce the second largest volume of any furniture store in the country--the Omaha operation being the national champion." Even though Berkshire Hathaway owns a majority interest in the Nebraska Furniture Mart, the business is still run by the family. More importantly, said Batt, it still bears the mark of his grandmother, who he lovingly refers to as Mrs. B. Mrs. B, whose maiden name was Rose Gorelick, was born in 1893 in a shtetl outside of Minsk, Russia. In 1917, she followed her husband, Isadore Blumkin, to the United States. The couple first settled in Fort Dodge, Iowa. But they soon moved to Omaha, NE, where there was a larger Jewish community. Initially, Mrs. B focused on raising the couple's four children and helping with her husband's business ventures, which included a second-hand clothing store and a jewelry and pawnshop. "Pawn shops are an old family tradition," Batt said. In fact, Mrs. B's brother, Sam Gorelick, started a jewelry and loan in Kansas City, KS called Sam's Loan Office, which is still in operation today. "The 1920s weren't too bad for my grandparents. But then the Depression came, and it got real bad for everybody," Batt said. To help support the family, Mrs. B opened a small furniture store in the basement of her husband's business. "My grandfather liked his jewelry and pawn shop," Batt said. "They never mixed the business. He did his thing and she did her thing. And they provided for their children." Naysayers said Mrs. B's furniture store would never make it. But she proved them wrong. "The business just got bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger," Batt said. "Over the years, she got rid of all of her competitors."

Related Topics:Shaw Industries Group, Inc., Nebraska Furniture Mart