Nebraska Furniture Mart leader Louie Blumkin dies at 93
Retail Editor 4 -- Home Textiles Today, February 28, 2013
Omaha, Neb. - Louie Blumkin, chairman emeritus of Nebraska Furniture Mart and son of founder Rose Blumkin, died at his home here Feb 26 surrounded by his family. He was 93.
Blumkin's "life's work was his family's well-being, Nebraska Furniture Mart and giving back to the community," nephew Bob Batt, NFM executive vice president, said in a statement.
For more than 75 years, Blumkin served generations of customers, developed a keen knack of knowing what his customers wanted, and worked side-by-side with his mother, "Mrs. B," in developing Nebraska Furniture Mart, now part of Berkshire Hathaway's furniture division.
"He was the smartest guy I ever saw at a market," Batt said, recalling a trip to the Dallas Market years ago, when Blumkin would walk into a showroom, rattle off the items and quantities he wanted and remember it all without taking a single note.
"Blumkin worked all the major markets, never took notes and made a lot of great deals for his customers," Batt said. "His handshake was his bond; his reputation and word were solid gold."
Blumkin also remembered generations of customers by name, by what they bought and when they made the purchase.
He was born June 27, 1919. Blumkin was a champion diver on his high school swim team, and was in the Army and halfway to Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, when his transport was turned back to San Francisco.
He went on to Europe and in 1944, landed on Omaha Beach with the Third Armored Division under Gen. George Patton. Blumkin's battalion was sent to relieve troops at the Battle of the Bulge. While serving in the Army, he received the Good Conduct Medal, the Purple Heart and the European Theater Medal-along with four Bronze Stars signifying his years of service.
"The liberation of Dachau concentration camp was his most important emotional experience," Batt wrote.
Blumkin also had a passion for golf and was a huge Nebraska football fan.
Since 1945, Blumkin ran NFM, and "his love and vision for the business turned Nebraska Furniture Mart into the largest home furnishing store in the country," Batt said. He said the business still runs on the fundamental principles Blumkin and his mother developed years ago.
Batt added that Blumkin was also very proud of his induction into the American Furniture Hall of Fame in 2000 along with his mother, the only mother-and-son duo among the elite group.
In 1983, the family sold a majority interest in the business to Berkshire Hathaway. The retailer has continued to expand, opening stores in Des Moines, Iowa, in 2000 (the NFM-owned Homemakers Furniture) and in Kansas City in 2003. A new store is slated to open in Dallas/Fort Worth in 2015.
"Louie provided great vision and mentoring to his sons Ron and Irv Blumkin," who lead the company today, Batt said. "They always remember to ‘Sell cheap and tell the truth,' which has been the guiding principle of Nebraska Furniture Mart.
Blumkin was a benefactor of several area organizations including the Rose Blumkin Jewish Home, Henry Doorly Zoo, Gene Mahoney State Park and the Ronald McDonald House. He was a longtime supporter of Creighton University and a member of the Creighton Society. Through the Louie and Frances Blumkin Foundation, he financially supported many Jewish and arts organizations.
He is survived by his wife Frances Blumkin, sons Ron, Irv and Steve Blumkin; two sisters; eight grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held 11:30 a.m. Friday at Beth El Synagogue, 14506 California St., Omaha.
Memorial donations may be made to The Rose Theater, Attn: Omaha Theater Company, Julie Walker, 2001 Farnam Street, Omaha, Neb. 68102; and University of Nebraska Foundation, Nebraska Neuroscience Alliance, 2285 S. 67th Street Suite 200, Omaha, Neb. 68106.
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