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The Surprising History Of Nebraska Furniture Mart

The Surprising History Of Nebraska Furniture Mart

It’s THE place to shop for furniture in Omaha. And Kansas City. And Des Moines. And Dallas. And… Nebraska Furniture Mart is so large and famous, that is simply known these days by three letters: NFM.

How did a little furniture store opened in a basement grow into the world’s largest furniture store? It started with a Belarussian immigrant, whose work ethic was second to none. Rose Blumkin — Mrs. B to everyone — founded the store that would become so successful that Warren Buffet felt the need to add it to his investment portfolio.

Exterior of Nebraska Furniture Month. Photo courtesy bunnicula

If you don’t know the story behind the Nebraska Furniture Mart, you’re in for a surprise.

NFM History

After immigrating to the United States in 1917, Rose and husband Izya settled in Omaha two years later. After helping her husband run a clothing store in downtown Omaha from the early 1920s, Rose Blumkin opened a small furniture store in the store’s basement in 1937. Taking off, her furniture store outgrew is original location and operated out of a variety of buildings before settling at 2205 Farnam St. in 1950, after the store added appliances.

After moving to its now-famous spot at 700 72nd St. in 1970, the store was destroyed in 1975, when a F4 tornado ripped through Omaha. The Blumkin family rebuilt, making the store even bigger, consolidating all of its sales operations under one roof. The Nebraska Furniture Mart continued growing, expanding its campus as it became the largest furniture store in the world.

Its success and potential led Warren Buffett and his Berkshire Hathaway company to purchase a controlling option in Nebraska Furniture Mart in 1983. Mrs. B and Buffett sealed the deal with a simple handshake.

Who was Mrs. B?

One of eight children born to her parents, Rose Gorelick was born in Schedrin, Belarus, December 1893. Her father served as a rabbi, while her mother ran a small grocery store. Rose started working in the store when she was six.

She married Isadore (Izya) Blumkin in 1913, when she was 20. The young couple immigrated to the United States in 1917, settling in Omaha two years later. Izya first arrived in the U.S. in 1915, and Rose followed three years later.

The Blumkins operated a used clothing store in downtown Omaha for several years. Rose Blumkin — nicknamed Mrs. B — started her own furniture business in the store’s basement in 1937. Borrowing $500, she turned the business into a profitable one in a short time.

While she built a mega-business, Mrs. B also raised her family. With a son and three daughters, Mrs. B balanced work life with family. After losing her husband in 1950, Mrs. B dedicated herself to ensuring success for Nebraska Furniture Mart.

As she worked at the furniture mart, Mrs. B also supported community events. The former Astros Theater at 20th and Farnam Street was renovated — including a sizable donation from the Blumkin family — and reopened in 1995 as The Rose Theater, in honor of Mrs. B. The Rose Blumkin Jewish Center also recognized her generosity.

Exterior of The Rose in Downtown Omaha

Mrs. B received an honorary doctorate from New York University in 1984, the first woman to receive the honor.

Mrs. B was known to work at the Furniture Mart daily. Then, in 1996, following a dispute with her grandsons over Furniture Mart operations, she took her motorized scooter and bought a building across from her original business, creating Mrs. B’s Clearance Center. She ran the store until the family reconciled, and the new store became part of the NFM fold.

Mrs. B was dedicated to her business until she turned 102. Mrs. B was 104 when she died in 1998.

Retail transformation

Undergoing several changes over the past 70 years, the most-likely transformation came in 1970, when the store opened its then-largest location on 72nd Street. But, wait, there’s more. Following the 1975 tornado, Furniture Mart rebuilt, putting all of its operations under one roof.

But, the Mart continued growing, adding space and offerings. Becoming a “Mega-Mart” in 1994, the store added electronics and appliances as their own segment. The Furniture Mart stood at 77 acres.

NFM in 2009. Photo courtesy mikebeuselinck

Nebraska Furniture Mart opened is first location outside Omaha a Des Moines outlet. The 1993 expansion would eventually lead to additional stores in Kansas City, Kansas (2003) and Dallas in 2015. After purchasing Des Moines’ Homemaker store in 2001, Furniture Mart became the largest furniture store in Iowa.

Following its expansion to Dallas, Nebraska Furniture Mart changed its logo to NFM. While maintaining its Nebraska name, NFM allows the company to easily market in locations outside Omaha.

Related post: The Best Places For Shopping In Omaha

Not just shopping for furniture: NFM Today

NFM is more than just a furniture store. It’s truly an adventure. Whether you’ve visited the Omaha or explored the other locations, a trip to the Mart is like visiting Disneyland for sofas. Be prepared to not just look for the item you’re intending to purchase, but browse through all the departments, and you may leave after buying more than you planned.

Computer department of a retail store

Interested in a new television? You’ll find dozens of choices, different sizes, brands, and options that you didn’t know you needed when you leave with a new home entertainment center. Good luck deciding on a new laptop as you meander through the computer section, with multiple options. Furniture buying, the original mission of NFM, presents shoppers with so many choices, you may just to move into the store.

Realizing the importance of having NFM anchor area development, Grandscape opened in Dallas as a mixed-use development, combining entertainment, retail, and restaurants, surrounding NFM. The Kansas City location is positioned similarly, with the Legends outlet mall in the area.

As shoppers’ preferences for online purchases grow, NFM has recognized the need to have a user-friendly, efficient website to help them purchase new furniture, appliances, and electronics.

Growing from selling used furniture from her home to online buying, Rose Blumkin and Nebraska Furniture Mart has definitely lived the “American Dream.” All while fulfilling Mrs. B’s signature belief of “sell cheap, and tell the truth.”

The world's largest furniture store is found in Omaha, Nebraska. Here's the story of Nebraska Furniture Mart, or NFM, its humble beginnings and impressive growth.

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