Rose Blumkin: A Rags to
Riches Business Woman
by Seymour “Sy” Brody
Rose Blumkin had one basic rule, “Sell cheap and tell the truth.” This was the basis for her success in business which led to her partnership with Warren Buffet, at the time, the second richest person in America.
She was born in Minsk, Russia, in 1893. Her father was a rabbi and her mother operated a small grocery store which supported the family. Rose Blumkin was inspired by her mother’s dedication and hard work.
In 1913, she married Isadore Blumkin, a shoe salesman. In 1914, World War I erupted in Europe. To avoid the military draft, he fled Russia and went to the United States. Three years later, Rose came to the United States with $66 in her pocket and unable to speak English. She still managed to meet her husband in Nebraska. In a short time, she sent for her parents and seven other members of her family.
She sold second-hand furniture from her home to augment the family income. They did fairly well until the Depression hit them. Rose checked out the prices for men’s suits in the local stores. She sharply undercut their prices and circulated 10,000 circulars offering to dress any man for $5. She profited $800, which was a large amount of money during the depression.
Rose Blumkin was always on the alert for business opportunities. In 1937, when she was 44, she opened up the Nebraska Furniture Mart in the basement of her husband’s pawn shop. She borrowed money from her brother to buy $12,000 worth of furniture. She sold it with a ten percent markup.
Her carpet suppliers sued her for violating the Fair Trade Laws by selling so low. She won the case and gained free publicity for her business. When the case was over, the presiding judge bought $1,400 worth of carpet.
Her business grew and from the original 3,000 square feet to 75 acres. She worked long hours every day. She told a newspaper, “I come home to eat and sleep and that’s about it. I can’t wait until it ‘s daylight so that I can get back to business.
When she was in her nineties and her legs were bothering her, she used a motorized cart to zip her through the store. The cart was nicknamed The Rose B. Rose.
In 1983, Warren Buffet, a Omaha resident, and the second richest man in the United States bought an 80% interest in the Nebraska Furniture Mart on a handshake for $55 million from the Blumkin family. Buffet had often thought of buying the store and, on his birthday, just walked in and asked how much they would sell it for and wrote a check.
Rose Blumkin generously donated to many projects. She gave a million dollars to the Jewish Federation of Omaha to build a 119-bed nursing home.
She saved The Rose, a classic theater in Omaha from demolition. It is now the Rose Blumkin Performing Arts Center.
In the 1930s, Rose and a friend met with supporters in her home to work for a Jewish homeland. That friend was Golda Meier, the first prime minister of Israel.
Rose Blumkin died in 1998, just before her105th birthday.
Upon hearing of her death, Warren Buffet said, “ We are partners. And in most ways, she’s the senior partner. She has forgotten more that I’ll ever know."
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Last updated 18 May 2007