Rose gorelick blumkin; nebraska furniture mart
AMERICAN FURNITURE HALL OF FAME
ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEW
NEBRASKA FURNITURE MART ON 72nd STREET
Roy Briggs, Interviewer
INTERVIEWER: Mrs. Blumkin, I’m Roy Briggs.
BLUMKIN: Yeah, what questions you want to ask?
INTERVIEWER: I have a whole lot of them. Normally this interview goes on a good long time, but I have highlighted the really important questions. With your permission we’ll do them first; then if we have time we’ll come back for the others. I’m going to be in Omaha for four days. If we don’t finish today, anytime you want me to, I’ll come back and we can go on if you want. Normally this interview takes five or six hours, but it doesn’t have to be all at once. So let’s start with just personal questions.
BLUMKIN: After this, Warren Buffett is coming. Tomorrow we are going to have a meeting with Berkshire Hathaway stockholders.
INTERVIEWER: That’s why I came today because I managed to buy a little bit of that stock. I’ve read a lot about Mr. Buffett.
BLUMKIN: Yeah, what questions you want to ask?
INTERVIEWER: All right. The first one is: When were you born?
BLUMKIN: 19 ... When was I born? I’m 103 years old, aahh 1893.
INTERVIEWER: Where were you born?
BLUMKIN: In Russia, Shchedrin in Belarus.
I came to America in 1917.
INTERVIEWER: Did you ever meet my friend Morris Futorian in Chicago? He had an upholstery factory in Chicago. He was born near Vilna actually, what is now I think Latvia.
BLUMKIN: I came here in 1917. The war was still on with Germany. I came to Seattle. I went through Siberia, China, Japan, then to Seattle and Washington. My husband left before the war.
INTERVIEWER: Did you take the railroad across Siberia?
BLUMKIN: Yes. Siberia, then China, and I arrived in Seattle, Washington. The war was still on with Germany. I came to America. The most wonderful people in the world. I was an immigrant. I couldn’t talk English. They offered me everything. The best in the world is American people.
INTERVIEWER: Well, the people here are different from anywhere else I’ve been.
BLUMKIN: Oh, in Russia they are rotten. For a bottle of vodka they kill anybody. So, I was there for a year. My husband was peddling junk and made not bad.
I told him I want to go to a big town to open up a store and sell cheap and bring my family over. I came in 1917. In 1919, I came to Omaha and I went around to the big stores and they were all selling 50 percent profits. I rent an old shack for $15 a month, bring in a couple rugs, a couple davenports and start to sell. The American people – they were like mothers to me. They brought me money for 37 years; they loan me money, and made me rich. The most wonderful people in the world, the middle class. Everybody was getting 50 percent, I sold for 10 percent. That made me rich.
INTERVIEWER: You put everybody else in town out of business.
BLUMKIN: I had beaten them up. Anyway I had talent from Russia. We were very poor and I took on job in a big town in a dry goods store. Thirteen years old and my boss used to tell me, “You’re the only one in Russia. Where is your age? Where are you born? How come you know so much?”
Then I met my husband and I got married. He left for the United States when the war broke out and I couldn’t come for three years. I took Siberia, China, Japan and came to Seattle, Washington before that and the people were wonderful. The American people are the best in the world.
So, he was peddling junk. I said to my husband, “No, I need my family here. I’ll go to Omaha to a big town and open up a small business.” I know the business. I was in dry goods. I sell 10 percent above cost, not 50 percent and I’ll make money to bring them. I brought over nine of them here. I came here in 1917. In 1919, I moved to Omaha. In 1922, I had my whole family.
Everybody was selling 50 percent above cost. I had to sell 10 percent above cost – never lie, never cheat – told the truth and American people are the best in the world. They loan me money 37 years. They didn’t want to pay 50 percent and they made me a millionaire.
I brought my family over. I build nursing home. I build a kitchen for high blood pressure, sugar diabetes. Everything I could do for the Omaha people. The middle class, they were the best. They made me rich. They loan me money 37 years. I sold 10 percent when all the big shots were making 50 percent. I sold my stock 12 years ago for $55 million to Berkshire Hathaway. At the time, Berkshire Hathaway was selling for $1,000 a share.
INTERVIEWER: Berkshire Hathaway is $33,000 a share.
BLUMKIN: They paid me for my business, $55 million. That was a real big going business and everybody bought $1,000 a share and look how much they getting. That meeting is tomorrow.
INTERVIEWER: I’m going to be there.
BLUMKIN: Oh, aren’t they happy. They didn’t do anything and they made money. I’m the one that worked hard. I came from Russia in 1917 and I worked 80 years today. Day or night, 10 percent above cost and I made a good success. They bought from me my business 12 years ago, for $55 million. Then I got tired not to do anything, so I went and opened up a store myself.
INTERVIEWER: When you first started, you said you had a couple of sofas. Who did you buy them from?
BLUMKIN: I rented a shack for $15 a month, put in a couple of sofas, a couple rolls of carpet and start to sell 10 percent above cost, not 50 percent.
INTERVIEWER: Who did you buy from, from the manufacturer?
BLUMKIN: From a wholesale house. My credit – I was no good for a dollar. They wouldn’t trust me. I told him you give me credit and I buy your building, and I did. I got rich. The American people loan me money 37 years. The best in the world, the middle class. I sold 10 percent above cost and everybody was getting 50 percent. I never lied, I never cheat, I worked hard 80 years and I never quit.
INTERVIEWER: Did you go to the furniture market? When did you start going to Market?
BLUMKIN: 1941. Nobody wouldn’t sell me anything. I always had to pay in advance for 10 years straight. They were rotten. Then, when I start to do business, they come to beg me, I should buy from them. But, the American people who bought from me and I sold 10 percent above cost, were wonderful. They loan me money 37 years.
INTERVIEWER: Do you remember the first furniture market you went to in Chicago?
BLUMKIN: First I was in Chicago.
INTERVIEWER: What can you tell me about the first market you went to in Chicago?
BLUMKIN: The first Market I went was a regular one, and I want to buy some couple rolls carpet. They say, “No, we not going to sell you nothing.” I say, “I’ll come back later when you go bankruptcy.” I would reach and they would pull. It took them 20 years, they went bankruptcy.
INTERVIEWER: What about furniture?
BLUMKIN: Nobody would sell me nothing. For 10 years, laying on the bench going to Chicago for $7 a trip. I had to sell 10 percent above cost, not 50 percent. My customers were like mothers to me. They loan me money, they help me – the middle class – and they made me rich.
INTERVIEWER: Did you have any particular management techniques or things that you did, managing your store back in the beginning?
BLUMKIN: I was everything. I was the buyer. I was the seller. I was the bootlegger. I did everything.
INTERVIEWER: Kept the books too?
BLUMKIN: Yes, I was the one. I had a devil in me and I told him, “Someday you’ll beg me to buy from you and I’ll kick you out.” And I did. They didn’t want to sell me nothing. I bought building and the company. Nobody would sell me nothing, so I went to one guy and I said, “Nobody wants to sell me nothing.” He says to me, “I like you. I’m going to sell to you.” So he sold me a thousand dollars on credit and I couldn’t sell it.
So I put an ad in the paper showing the merchandise and sold out my stock and brought him the money and told him what I did. He went out with the check all over and told them that they are stupid and he is smart. He knew who to trust.
INTERVIEWER: Who was the furniture company?
BLUMKIN: What do you call the Maple, a bedroom set?
INTERVIEWER: Hard rock maple?
BLUMKIN: Everywhere I went in, they kicked me out. I told them Alexander Smith wouldn’t even look me in his face. I say and 20 years later you’ll be broke without any money and that was exactly like it. I came back to him from finding president and I say, “I made a prediction. You went bankruptcy and I got rich.” The local houses wouldn’t trust my high chair for $1.75. I told them I’ll buy their building, they stupid. They went out of business. I bought their building. I tell you what’s happened to me. The American people, the middle class, are the best in the world. They were giving 50 percent profit. I sold for 10 percent and they start to bring me cash from all over, thousands of dollars. Thirty-seven years they loan me money.
What was the guy I bought from? Phoenix Furniture. Nobody would give me credit, but he gives me a thousand dollars worth. He trusted me. I didn’t sell right away. I put an ad in the paper. I live in town. I sold out my kids’ beds and everything, and brought him the check. He went around and showed how smart he is. He knew who to trust.
FRANCES BATT (BLUMKIN'S DAUGHTER): So, we come home, the four of us, and we were all crying.
BLUMKIN: We went to the movies.
BATT: We asked, “Where’s all the furniture?” She told us, “If I promise to pay a bill, we will get other things.” For a while, we sat on orange crates, but we learned. If she had to do it, she had to do it. Tell him about your beginnings in 1937 in the little store, how you would sell a refrigerator that cost you $90 and you sold it for $95.
BLUMKIN: I had to sell cheap, 10 percent above cost. The sellers took their refrigerators. They took it away from me.
BATT: However, a man from the biggest department store in town came to her that sold the same products. He was about 6’4.” He said, “Mrs. Blumkin, you can’t sell things below the regular fair trade price.” She said to him, “You get out of my store. This is my business.” Maybe the most wonderful part about her is, she always knew what it was to be poor and she has never forgotten that. She’s 103. She has never forgotten that and she said, “Why should I charge poor people?”
INTERVIEWER: Did you have a personal goal in business other than to succeed? Any specific personal things you were determined to do?
BATT: What were you determined to do in your business? What was your goal?
BLUMKIN: My goal was to sell cheap. Ten percent above cost, not 50 percent. And if I couldn’t get it, they wouldn’t sell me. I would bootleg. I went over to another dealer and paid him 5 percent to sell to me.
INTERVIEWER: The next question is how well did you achieve this, but you’ve already shown here that you did.
BLUMKIN: Let me tell you something – I was a devil. I took a job in Russia when I was 13 years old. My boss used to come and tell me, “Every customer you sell they come and say, ‘where you got the 13-year-old girl that got so much, that tell the truth so much?’” So, then, I was confident that I could build that big business. They couldn’t take away that part of me.
INTERVIEWER: Did you have a philosophy of the real way you did business?
BLUMKIN: Well I had in me, anything they wouldn’t sell me, I used to bootleg and pay 5 percent and sell for 10 percent. Always give them a knock. I put a big millionaire out of business. He was a big millionaire and I put him out. They couldn’t stand the competition.
BATT: But your philosophy? Truthfully she says many times …
BLUMKIN: Tell the truth.
BATT: Tell the truth, sell cheap and don’t cheat, don’t lie.
BLUMKIN: Don’t cheat and don’t lie.
BATT: And don’t take kickbacks. That’s her philosophy.
INTERVIEWER: Well kickbacks are sort of unusual. I’m glad you mentioned that. Do you remember who your suppliers were other than Phoenix and Alexander Smith?
BLUMKIN: One guy was in Kansas City.
BATT: Oh sure. In Kansas City. He was a wonderful man. One of those people who trusted her when she had a hard time. His name was Robbie Brown. He is a gentleman and he died.
BLUMKIN: I used to call him up, “You want money?” He said, “No, sweetheart, you ordered.”
BATT: He was a great man. He supported me.
BLUMKIN: It was Depression. Everybody was poor.
BATT: Because she had no money she could write in our local paper, The World Herald, a classified ad. It could be two lines. It could be three lines. She’d say, “Buy cheap. Come to Nebraska Furniture Mart.” She started with the name Nebraska Furniture Mart. She wanted to encompass everything. She could have named it a lot of stuff, but that was a very broad name. She’s never forgotten what it is in any kind of business. Watch your spending. She would display ad, which she would in general, she would give them the idea and then other people would put it together. She would say this is a $10 carpet and our price is, instead of $10, she would sell it for $5, as she does up ‘til today. She made a move up. That was in 1940.
BLUMKIN: I tell the truth and I sold cheap and they loan me money for 37 years, the customer.
BATT: And in order to make ends meet, she would sell anything that a customer would ask for, for cheap. Fur coats. She said she sold everything at cost. Anything that you could buy really cheap and make money off of it. Then came the great move in 1945, to the downtown store, 2205 Farnam.
BLUMKIN: The American people were very good to me.
BATT: Now, at 2205 Farnam, she struggled and struggled but never gave up. In 1951, when times were very tough she, in her own head, thought of this idea. She’s a trailblazer in any kind of way you can think. She said, “I’m going to rent the downtown Omaha City Auditorium. I’m going to take all the furniture out of my store and we’re going to hold a three-day sale.” They couldn’t pay the bills. They came from the big store she has mentioned and they said to the city, “You can’t rent this city auditorium to her.” The city ignored the competitors and they said, “We will rent to you.” It was in June, a three-day sale, and in three days she took in a mountain of money which put her over the top – $250,000 in revenue in three days, and this was 1951 right before the Korean War. That allowed her the great luxury of paying bills without having to sell our furniture from our house (which we got used to), and without having to go to somebody (these friends), and saying, “They won’t sell to me, will you sell to me?”
BLUMKIN: That’s what put me in business.
BATT: Right. She would think, going to advertising, in her own mind…and one day she says, “I don’t have enough.” She thought of the sidewalk sale. I could stay out there in the sun. She thought of garage sales. It seems to me in Omaha, Nebraska, how far across the country I do not know, she is the original discount operation because she had been doing that for years before 1937, when she would help my dad in his business.
BLUMKIN: I’ll make it clear: If you want to work hard and tell the truth and sell cheap you can make a success. Anybody who lies and cheats around people don’t get anywhere.
INTERVIEWER: Tell me about your customers. Do you remember any of your customers?
BATT: Oh, yeah.
BLUMKIN: My customers were to me like mothers. They brought me 37 years of money they loan me.
BATT: Do you want to name some of your customers that were so good to you? Do you remember, Mrs. Graybach?
BLUMKIN: Mrs. Touchack, Mrs. Grimley. These people were very good to me. They loaned me money all the time.
BATT: Yes, and when times got tough, these wonderful people, they were from all over the city, and it was hard for them.
BLUMKIN: All the middle class loaned me money.
INTERVIEWER: Do you remember any of your other customers?
BLUMKIN: Anyway, I sold my stock for $55 million.
BATT: Your sale was for $55 million to Warren Buffett.
BLUMKIN: $55 million. They sold $1,000 a share and they making now, what?
BATT: The last figure could be $37,500 as of Friday for one share for Berkshire Hathaway.
BLUMKIN: Seven thousand people are expected for the meeting.
INTERVIEWER: Do you remember having any problems with your customers?
BLUMKIN: They were wonderful. The American people are the best in the world. The middle class – not the big shots. I don’t have any respect for big shots. They think they own the country.
INTERVIEWER: Remember the furniture business when you started? How different is it now from what it was when you started?
BATT: How different is the furniture business today from the day you started? Now it’s 1997. You started in 1937.
BLUMKIN: Tell the truth, sell cheap, don’t take advantage of the customers, be a friend and they’ll always come back. When you’re a liar they run away from you.
INTERVIEWER: But you don’t have any problems with people selling to you now.
BLUMKIN: I even sold my business for $55 million and they bought for $1,000 a share. Now it’s $38,000. And anyway, years ago the people were better because to me, they gave help. Not anymore.
INTERVIEWER: You don’t have any trouble with manufacturers or suppliers selling to you anymore, like you did then. They are glad to do it.
BLUMKIN: The American people, the middle class, were wonderful to me. They loan me money 37 years.
INTERVIEWER: Tell me, in your opinion, what is your own greatest contribution to the furniture industry?
BATT: What do you feel is your greatest contribution to the furniture and carpet industry?
BLUMKIN: To sell cheap, tell the truth, don’t cheat people. That’s what I did.
INTERVIEWER: You’ve already covered that.
BLUMKIN: Don’t be a liar.
INTERVIEWER: No, for instance the sale in the auditorium that was—
BLUMKIN: Now how many people want to work? I worked 80 years and I’m 103 years and 8 months old and I still come. It’s right in me. Day or night, I work.
INTERVIEWER: But, you originated, for instance, having the sale in the auditorium? Having the sale on the sidewalk?
BATT: That’s right. That was her idea.
BLUMKIN: Everything I could and I never lied when they came to find a bargain.
BATT: He wants to know: What are some of your other ideas like the sidewalk sale, the auditorium? What were some of the things that you would think of?
BLUMKIN: You get stuck with something and wait too long. They give part of the price and they buy it.
INTERVIEWER: What about coming out here? Wasn’t this location pretty much way out in the country when you came here?
BLUMKIN: From here?
BATT: No, from downtown to 72nd Street. Wasn’t it way out in the country when we came?
INTERVIEWER: Because the furniture stores, when you started and many years after, were all downtown.
BLUMKIN: I put others out of business because I sold cheaper. When you are not lazy and not a thief, they trust you.
INTERVIEWER: When you came out here to 72nd Street, were there any other stores that far away from the center of town?
BLUMKIN: They not going to compete, they too damn lazy. They like vacation. I work 80 years without a day vacation. Now I’m 103 years and 8 months old and my heart is right in it. I wonder if they know how to sell. Buffett would buy it.
INTERVIEWER: You touched on that a little bit. What have you done in the city, for the people of Omaha, for the community?
BATT: What have you done with the city of Omaha to help the city of Omaha and the people?
BLUMKIN: When I could, I built an old people home, I built a high blood pressure clinic, and I built a theater.
BATT: The theater. This magnificent theater she saved from demolition in 1981. It was called the Astro but in her honor they renamed it after her.
BLUMKIN: If anybody ever had a flood, if there was enough money, I would give them appliances, carpet, and I didn’t have to pay income tax on my cost.
BATT: We had a South Dakota flood, same as the one like they had now. She took a whole truck with all kinds of goods. Now what she did was she bought clothing. She went to a local clothing store. Said to them, “I want to buy everything in the store, put it in the truck, take it to the people that have no clothes.” They had nothing. They lost everything. Then when there was Hurricane Andrew, she got semis, tractor-trailer loads, to the people down in Florida. She did this all over. Now what happened with the theater, was that in 1993?
BLUMKIN: When anybody had a flood, I used to go and buy out a whole store and ship it.
BATT: They had the most wonderful group of people that had the ability to bring financial help. After the first million, she decided to give to the theater. At her birthday party, she gave another million dollars.
INTERVIEWER: You were saying how remarkable she is. Unique in all the world which there’s no doubt about it. You say that she doesn’t, even when she’s sick, she won’t go to bed.
BATT: In this past year, her health has deteriorated.
INTERVIEWER: Not very much.
BATT: Not her spirit. She exhibits the same qualities that she’s had that I’ve known all my life. She has a zest for business that no other single thing can compare to. She’s not interested in social teas nor has a hobby. She has one focus in life. She has one pleasure in life besides her family. It is her business. It is contact with the customer. It’s the thrill of the marketplace.
And, what has happened, for instance, in this past year, in spite of the fact that she has to have an oxygen tank, she ignores that totally. The tank is put on her cart, which is her best friend, and she will be here when the store opens when she has the strength. Some days she doesn’t make it, lately. She will wait on customers. She’s wheeling and dealing and giving them bargains and she loves to give bargains. One of her favorite things is, no matter what the salesperson says – like I was here yesterday, and the customer had already decided on a $21 a yard quality retail carpet, and the salesman had completed the sale, and he said it would be about $12. At a discount, always. That’s the way this business was built. My mother would say, “Never mind, I’m the boss. You can have it for $9.” The salesperson would say, “Wait a minute – that is your cost.” She would say, “OK, I’ll make it $10.” It’s always been like that. She gets nothing but pleasure.
Actually, in 1937, I was there when my mother started. As children, there were four of us – my brother, the one boy, and three girls. When you were old enough to walk and talk and write, first we helped our dad. Then we helped our dad and mother. When my mother said to do something we had a saying, “When my mother says jump, we say how high?” and up ‘til this day that’s the way it is. I think that probably, looking at it from a child’s standpoint, the beautiful part is from the Depression and from the early days that all of us can remember, we went with our parents everywhere. For instance, if there was a customer ‘til midnight, you laid down, wherever you laid down, even though you had to go to school in the morning, because you never left that store until the customer finished or she finished with the customer. All through the years we were taught, “You help your parents.” We never knew people got paid, because there was no money, but we always appreciated their effort. My mother with her mind for never giving up. She had a very checkered career before she opened her own furniture store. She helped my dad. When things got very tough, even in the ’20s, she would say, “I have an idea. I am going to put an ad in the paper, ‘buy used clothing.’” One bitter day she takes the car and goes to the house of Charlie Munger’s mother. It was a bitter cold day. My mother has never forgotten her kindness. My mother bought whatever clothing there was. Mrs. Munger said, “I cannot let you go out in that bitter cold. I want you to sit down and have some coffee.” My mother never forgot it. And look what’s happened from that time, which was in the ’20s and Charlie Munger was a little boy. Now the connection is really quite amazing. At any rate, during these years she developed this idea of running these ads. My father used to sell shotguns. You couldn’t sell a shotgun because people didn’t have money for food. But, we’re a hunting country. She said, “I’m going to run a three-line ad and I’m going to say, ‘SHOTGUNS FOR RENT.’” I think it was about $3 a day and a $25 deposit for the weekend. The first day when nobody appeared in any other store because of the Depression, there was a line around the block. She would dream. She thought, when Sonja Henie came out, there were Sonja Henie snowsuits. She would say, “Retail is maybe $25, I will sell it for $15.” She developed this wonderful ability for thinking, “how do I get the people in here?”
INTERVIEWER: This is the innovation that you mentioned.
BATT: That’s one of her innovations. What happened was if a customer said in any way, “I need pots and pans.” She would say, “I have a wholesale house.” Or “I need sheets”; “I would like to buy a cloth coat.” She would say, “Fine, I have a wholesale house.” Right behind my dad’s store, you go through an alley where she eventually rented, 1312 Farnam. There were wholesale houses that could not sell their goods. She would go in there, take a coat that cost $10, and believe it or not, she might sell it for $11 or $12, not the retail price. The wholesale people were starving so they were happy to do it. Actually, that’s the way she started to become known.
When young couples started, at 1312 Farnam, they would see these little ads, and like I told you, a $90 cost refrigerator would be $95 excluding all expenses, lights, electricity, and a dollar for delivery. I would say to her, “We aren’t going to come out.” She would say, “Never mind. I know what I’m doing.” And that’s what happened. She knew what she was doing.
She reached not only the brains of the Omaha people, she reached their hearts. She would do things like when the war was on, a man came in and he said, “My wife just had a baby.” They were looking for, actually they had to have a table and chairs, but they couldn’t afford a crib. Now, she wasn’t really making any money. She said, “Because you are going to fight for our country, you’re going off to war, I am going to give you the crib.” When people were flooded out they would come in and say, “We don’t know what to do. We can afford the washing machine, but we’re going to have to wait on that dryer.” Whatever it was, she’d say, “You’ve had tough times. You’re a good customer. I know when you can pay, you’ll pay me. You can have the dryer.” That was one of her secrets. She did it from her heart. She didn’t do it as a promotion; but, when a customer would come in and they would buy a breakfast set or a bedroom set or maybe quite a bit, in those days that was a lot of furniture … if you had a few hundred dollar sale that was big news. She would say, “You’re renting a new apartment. You bought all of this from me. You are so nice. You came to me to buy. You trust me. I am going to give you a present, a lamp.” That was one of her trademarks. But she knew a freeloader when she saw one. When she saw a person . . . she’d say, “Now what do you do and where do you work, when can you pay me?” She’d size them up and say, “I trust you. Maybe times are hard, I know you’re going to pay me,” and then when those people got a job and they started coming, how did the store really start to grow and prosper in spite of all the wonderful prices, in spite of any kind of ads? They started to know there’s a little lady in this town who sells so cheap. She would say, “You want that bedroom set, you go to the downtown store, tell me exactly what they charge, you get me all the numbers,” which they did. They’d come back to her and they’d say, “I saw this Haywood-Wakefield bedroom set and it was $200 and here is the number. What will you sell it to me for?” She might go to $100 because she knew it cost her less because of the markup. She would call the company or whatever it was. They began to know if it’s a Kelvinator refrigerator, if it’s a Maytag, if it’s a radio, if it’s a television (they all had brand names and numbers), she will sell it cheaper, which she always did.
So, by word of mouth with her good prices, her standing behind any product, and her ability to get what the customer wanted, all of a sudden one neighbor would say to the other, “I’m getting married this week.” “Well, we got a place for you to go.” SAC, now called STRATCOM, went from Supreme Air Command – it’s the heart of the American defense system. We have this out at a base called Offutt Air Force Base. It got so that if somebody came to any business (ConAgra, Union Pacific, and smaller business) and said, “I’ve just moved to town, where shall I go to buy furniture?” They’d say, “You go to Nebraska Furniture Mart and see Mrs. Blumkin.” One of the great stories is that at STRATCOM, Lord and Lady Evans, (he was head of air defense), and this has got to be 30 years ago, he came into town and he had heard about the store. He came in and they had to furnish a house and they bought all their furniture. There were very few like that overseas, but believe me, we have sold to Hawaii, to Guam; people are going to Israel that buy the furniture and ship. This is the way it is. I’m sure there are places in Europe also, but then people would, as times prospered too, they’d say, “Well I’ve got a house in Aspen, so I have to furnish that house.” Or, they had a neighbor there and they heard about it and they would come.
So, I would say mostly by word of mouth and the strength of her personality, frankly. But forget it all. What a customer wants is to be treated well. To get what he wants. She had this instinct. She would say, “You come in.” The customer would say, “I want to buy carpet.” “I want it in the playroom for my children, and I want this for the basement.” Then they would pick out a really light carpeting. She had the uncanny knack, whatever the customers’ needs were, she’d say, “Honey, you’ve got little kids. I would advise you to buy this color and this quality. You don’t want to worry about the carpet.” Or, they would bring her a pillow for this or that, and they would say, “I think this.” She’d say, “I’m going to give you some good advice.” Well the beauty of it is, since she started in 1937, we have people that still have the carpet that they bought from her. One day I had the most remarkable experience. A woman stopped me and she said, “You know, I bought a fur coat from your mother in the olden days (which was in the ’30s). I still have the fur coat. I shortened it to a jacket. The quality is still good.” I remember the coat cost $35. My mother sold it for $35 because she says a profit is a profit. Don’t worry if the profit isn’t large. She would say, “I’ll get it in volume.” All of a sudden she turned out to be the volume queen. I marvel at my mother. We discuss it all the time. What is it that makes her tick? She tells this story. She was born in the village of Shchedrin in Belarus. Her father was a rabbi who was a scholar, but never made a cent. Her mother really supported the family of eight children. When she was 6 years old, before all the other children were born, one night she woke up and saw her mother, who was the light of her life – she always says, “My diamond, my mother.” She was one of the great inspirations of her life. So she sees her mother working at night. In the daytime she has to do everything she has to do with the children. She’s baking so she can sell a little bread, a little cookies. She was 6 years old and she watched her mother work so hard, which she did all her life. She had very proud parents. They actually had no food sometimes. Her mother wanted the neighbors never to know. Sometimes on the Sabbath her mom would put on a big pot of water and have the steam come out so the neighbors would think she had soup. My mother learned from her mother – she’d say, “I don’t like freeloaders. I don’t like beggars. I like people who work hard and don’t ask other people to help them no matter what the circumstances. If you can’t make it one place, try again. Always keep working and never give up.” So she looks at her mother, my mother is 6 years old, and she set the goal for her life. She said to her mother, “When I grow up, I am going to get a job. I’m going to earn money. I’m going to go to America. When I go to America, I’m going to make more money, get another job and send for you and the whole family.” Well the miracle was that in 1922, after years of saving, my two brothers, my dad, Isadore Blumkin (who died incidentally in 1951), they saved money and all those relatives came over, including an orphaned nephew of my grandmother’s. My mother held to that wish and goal so that it was not a question of dollars, it was a question of pennies. One day my dad said, “I’m going to go over and buy a bottle of pop for a nickel.” My mother said, “Don’t go get that bottle of pop, drink water because we’ll bring my family over sooner.” In the early years, my mother would walk with the baby buggy (with my brother and me in it) to help my father; I’d say it was about four miles. Physical hardships never meant anything to her, and so, going back to her 6-year-old story that she tells me, her mother would say to her, “Go to the grocery store in the little village and buy me flour and sugar.” Because, what my grandmother would do (her name was Sarah Gorelick), she would sell to the neighbors around her who didn’t have to go to the village. Maybe they had to watch their children. She learned from her mother this idea of giving the customer what they wanted no matter how hard it was, like my grandmother had to bake all night for whatever she made. So, my mother goes to the grocery store with a list that my grandmother gives her, and Mr. Prost had an abacus to add up the bill (the old-fashioned abacus). My mother figured up the bill in her head, at 6 years old. She said, “Mr. Prost, you made a mistake in one kopek, one cent.” He said, “Just a minute, little girl, I’ll redo the addition.” “Sure enough,” he said, “you know what, you are right. I overcharged you one kopek.” Then he went to the Synagogue and he told all the people: “Here is a 6-year-old child who, in her head and with speed, had the total before I ever had it.” Well that was, to me, the beginning of the knowledge of her computer brain. You come in and say, “I need an 8 by 10 carpet and my room is such and such a size.” She’d say, “You need for this room you described, 15 square yards of carpet and I’m going to charge you so much per yard, I’m going to charge you so much for padding, and I’m going to charge you for installation and your bill is $220, installed.” She made a habit of that. Her brain just operated like that. I call her a mathematical genius because she never really . . . now she is literate in that she writes Yiddish and reads it, but English defied her. She would be able to read big headlines.
Oh, another thing about her, she always knew what her competitors were doing. That’s one of her secrets: Know what you competitor is doing. So, her favorite habit after work (you don’t go for a walk in the park, you don’t go do this), is she would get in the car and shop every competitor. That was her nightly routine. You don’t rest, you go watch your competitor. You go see what your competitor is doing. Then she would look in the paper to see what were they selling and how much they were charging. She’d say, “I’m going to give them a better price.” That’s how she met her competition.
INTERVIEWER: I’m curious about your moving out here, because when that happened, was that 1936?
BATT: No, 1937 was her first original Nebraska Furniture Mart at 1312 Farnam. That was in 1937. She stayed there until 1940. She moved up the street to 1918 Farnam, stayed there for five years and then went to what was really the heart of the growth of Nebraska Furniture Mart, and her bargains. That’s where people came to shop.
INTERVIEWER: Still on Farnam Street?
BATT: Still on Farnam Street. In the early ’70s we bought that original building. What happened was, in 1975, we were hit by a tornado on May 6, 1975. That beautiful building that I just showed you, the original old insurance building and the center section, the tornado actually came in with the funnel and took everything that was in there including the roof, and the car. The cars were plastered – four wheels vertically in walls. It took all the furniture. At any rate, they had to move the whole operation downtown, and what was wonderful was that the downtown store did more business with so many people because of the tornado. We had an eight-mile swath. My house was one of those hit. People got their furniture wrecked, their carpets wrecked. All of a sudden, we did more business, even though we got hit so badly in that downtown store than the other two stores combined. When adversity comes, my mother knows how to handle it.
In 1961, in this downtown store, we had a fire with really insufficient insurance coverage; it was really a question of money. We were partially insured. It was a three-alarm fire, that’s the biggest that can be. Many people, 200, were in the store. Thank God they all got out safely. It was a terrible ordeal. Because, first of all, there were so many people in the store. But they all got out safely. We stood there and prayed that none of the firemen of the 10 fire stations would get hurt and thank God, no one was hurt. That was another terrible disaster. First of all, the store was saved so that whatever insurance we had allowed us to reopen the store. Now ordinarily you would be closed for a week, a month. The damage was severe. My mother said, “No, we’re opening up tomorrow.” Well, that’s when we opened. That is also one of her habits. Anybody who could walk on two legs (husbands, all the spouses, aunts, uncles, whoever) worked there when there was a disaster. Everybody helped.
We opened up the next day and the business just sort of cranked along. I mean some records were ruined, and, you know, different equipment. But, once it was organized, then my mother said, “We’re running a fire sale. We are going to have a fire sale. We tell the customers the truth. All this furniture downtown was in the fire, if you want to buy it, buy it.”
Well, it was one of the triumphs of the decade. The people were lined up by the hundreds, because there isn’t anybody who doesn’t like to save money. What was wonderful, at that time, is that it illustrated one of the wonderful things. People who owed money – there was Mr. Miller. He was associated with Boys Town. He was the original man, the promoter that thought of sending out letters to get donations, and he furnished a beautiful penthouse and he bought thousands of dollars worth of furniture. Which, incidentally, my mother would say when people wanted a whole house, she got so she would say, “I’m going to take you to the furniture mart, or the merchandise mart.” Because they said, “Well, we want this or that something special.”
This man calls up. He owed about $20-25,000, and hadn’t gotten the stuff. He said, “Mrs. Blumkin, you need the money. I’m going to bring you the money so that you don’t have to worry about paying your bills.” That’s the kind of people . . . I wouldn’t say there were numerous calls, but there were people like that who said, “You need help, I’m here to help you.” When adversity hits, my mother always says, “I’ve been through a revolution (that was the 1917 revolution), I’ve been through a war (the First World War). I survived that. I’ll survive this.” Then she said, “We’ll just start again, that’s all.” A normal individual would sit and cry and say, “What am I going to do?” Not my mother.
After the fire she said, “Next day we’re open for business. I don’t know how bad it is. The roof is opened.” We had to have a temporary roof, had to use temporary machinery, et cetera. She would never say, “I’m too tired, I don’t feel good.” She would even forget to eat. As long as a customer wanted help, she would help them. We would come down just to check on her and say, “Have you had lunch yet?” She’s say, “Oh, I’ve been too busy.” So, I think, again, one of her pillars was relations with customers. She never had to go to a public relations company. She never had to read books on how to succeed, how to get ahead. She had it all. I have to say, it’s not only the brainpower, but it’s the power from her heart. She has always remembered what it is like to be poor. She has never forgotten that.
And, when she sees a customer . . . she had a memory that’s so phenomenal. It used to be (not today), you’d say, “I want a white plush carpet.” This is with hundreds of rolls, she would say, “I’ve got a white plush carpet for you.” At that time it was pre-carts. She would go to the inventory, until it got so large that we had warehouses, she’d go to a pile and say, “That’s what you need.” I mean we had hundreds and thousands of rolls of carpets and she would say to customers, “You want white plush, I got it for you and if I don’t have it for you, I’ll get it for you. Don’t worry. When you’re building your house, it will be here.” The customer would ask, “How much should I pay down?” She would say, “I trust you. You would never cheat me, I know you. I’m not worried. You say you’re going to pay me, you’re gonna pay me.” But heaven help you if you didn’t pay your bill. She’s one of the greatest bill collectors that ever walked. Then, of course, everything became of such magnitude, so much floor space and so many people, that she could not actually handle it all. A customer will come here and say, “Mrs. Blumkin, I want you to wait on me.” She’ll go over there, still today. “I need a mattress.” She’ll go up to the front.
Originally, when the store grew to its great size, she actually had to confine herself. She got to her true love, which was carpet. That was her kingdom. That’s what she did, because of the sheer area or size that had to be covered. That’s like her first love. Not only that, my mother watched every penny. If a man comes in and sells her goods, be it furniture or carpet, she’d say, “How much discount am I going to get?” They’d say, “I can’t give you a discount.” She’d say, “Then, I can’t buy from you. I got to have a discount.” And my mother . . . you dare not ever, ever miss a discount. I mean she watched pennies. That is part of the reason for her success. But I will tell you that her phenomenal memory and knowledge, pure product knowledge, was amazing.
BLUMKIN: I’m from a rotten country – Russia. You pulled, you struggled. The wonderful thing, I came to America. You want to work, you’ll make money.
BATT: A salesman came in from which carpet company, I cannot remember.
INTERVIEWER: It wasn’t Alexander Smith?
BATT: I don’t know. Remember this, Mom? They sold you carpet, and my mother always looks at the carpet after the shipment comes in. She’ll ride around every morning. She checks the inventory. She picks up the carpet, she always does this when she buys the carpet – she’ll feel the carpet. What’s the weight? What’s the feel? This time when the order came in, she picked up the carpet and she said, “This is not the weight I bought. I bought so many ounces. This is not the correct weight.” The company sent a representative and they said, “You’re correct. This weight is not what you bought.” And guess what they stumbled on? There was an inside ring at the mill. They stole the yarn and had their own little outlaw operation. But she’s the one that caught it.
BLUMKIN: When somebody cheats you, you should learn.
BATT: Some people, they never learn. You can put somebody into something. You got to have the talent, the brains and the desire.
INTERVIEWER: When did you move out to 72nd? I think that’s important.
BATT: That is very important. 1970 was the original center building. In 1975, we had the merged operation because of the big tornado. In 1980 or 1981, downtown began to be absolutely just not the preferred location. But not our store, I’ll have you know. And that was another idea my mother came up with. What happened to downtown? No parking. People said, “I can go to the new shopping mall and drive up to the door, and I don’t have to feed a meter and I don’t have to look for a parking space.” So my mother bought this property next to the downtown store, and this was years before downtown deteriorated. Lo and behold, you have a 200-car parking lot. Pretty soon we bought land across the street for more parking and that store was the single biggest draw downtown while the others failed. We mentioned Orchard and Wilhelm, the great giant, the decorators, even Brandies with its beautiful furniture department. They all started, but no matter what happened, they couldn’t make it. Here is where all the people came.
So finally, the move was made to close the downtown store in 1981. Then it became a single operation again. By that time, about 1975, the south wing was added. It was 1983 when it was sold to Berkshire Hathaway.
INTERVIEWER: When you came out here, the shopping center was already here?
BATT: Yes, Crossroads. By that time, it was a good 30 years old, so that would be 1967. That was just initiated and it went off great, there was parking at the door. One of the most important things about this location is that it was the original central shopping area, and it had lots of parking too. That’s one of the secrets today, of how you succeed. If a person can’t get to your store then they can’t buy from you. Or they have to pay a lot of money to park. People are very sensitive to that.
INTERVIEWER: One thing I missed – the recorder was already cut off. When you and I were talking, and we said, “Well, we’re all done.” She said, “Bring me a customer!” I wish I could have gotten that on tape.
BATT: Oh, I’m sorry you didn’t because that’s what it is. This is her lifeblood. I’ll tell you we have a funny saying in our house among all of the kids and relatives: The customer comes first. Don’t kid yourself. We could come in and she’d say, “Sorry I’ve got to go.” We all got used to that. Either you do, or you sit and cry. She taught us that you don’t sit and cry. You just forget it.
INTERVIEWER: I thought that was wonderful.
BATT: Oh gosh, I’m sorry I didn’t hear that. That is wonderful
INTERVIEWER: You’ve also mentioned several times what an excellent judge of character she is.
BATT: Fabulous. When you say “judge”, it gives me the thought of what happened . . . could have been in the ’50s . . . Mohawk, because of one of the local stores, sued my mother saying, “You have violated the fair trade act. We have a regular retail price and you cannot discount our prices.” The case was heard by Judge Chase. She said, “Judge, what is wrong with selling cheaper to people? There are people who can’t afford the big prices. What have I done wrong? I know what it’s like to be poor. Why shouldn’t I give the customer what he or she wants?” The judge not only ruled in her favor, but he came in the next day and bought $1,400 worth of carpeting. She is so brilliant.
(TO BLUMKIN): What he thought was so wonderful was what you said when you thought we were finished. You said, “Bring me a customer!” The tape wasn’t on so, would you say it again? The interview is over now.
BLUMKIN: “Bring me a customer!”
INTERVIEWER: How wonderful! You’ve said Mrs. Blumkin is such a wonderful judge of character and I think this is very important.
BATT: She is such a judge of character, it’s phenomenal. How would she get people to work for her? Many times what happened was, if she had one good person, it generally went through the generations. In other words, “My son just graduated high school. He needs a job for the summer.” She’d say, “Mrs. Tousha, I know your family. If you tell me you got a good boy, send him in.” So when she would know a family, it would go down through the children. She had one man, Mr. Watson, who had eight kids. He worked here and all the eight kids worked here. It was always a standing joke. You knew where you could get a job if you were honest and if you were on time. You never had to worry.
But, if she saw you do things, like if you didn’t wait on a customer, forget it. She would walk up to you and say, “This is not for you.” She never worried about what a person’s background was. As a matter of fact, she would say (again to a relative), “Well, you want a job from me? What can you tell me about yourself?” They’d say, “Well I just graduated college.” She’d say, “I won’t hold it against you.”
Another way that she would get some of the most wonderful people ever, is they’d come in and say, “Mrs. Blumkin, I want to buy some furniture. We don’t have much money to spend (and this would be more of a constant than hit or miss.) I have $300 to spend. I need a bed, mattress, table and chairs for my kitchen. What should I do?” She’d say, “Never mind, I’ll take care of you. You don’t have to worry about a thing.” She would go through, pick out the furniture and say, “Mrs. Tousha (or whoever the lady was), I can help you. You know something? I like the questions you ask me. How would you like a job?” So, many, many times the customer turned out to be an employee and she had this instinct on their reliability. Of course, in the early years, anybody that got a job was so happy to get a job. Even in later years, she would look them over and say, “Have you ever sold carpet?” “No.” She’d say, “You’ll learn.” She was correct. So that was her method, truthfully. That’s how she got it. She’d say, “You kids have any friends that could work this Saturday?” “Yeah, we got friends.” When we were really little, my mother didn’t have enough money for the ad in the newspaper. I’ll tell you what. She had an old Dodge, it was like a 1932 Dodge and she could not drive, believe me. She’d say, “Get all the kids in the neighborhood. I’m going to have a flier printed and I’m going to tell them what the bargains are, where to come, and what day.” When you’re in the family you never got paid, we knew that, but she said to the neighborhood kids, “I will pay them 5 cents an hour,” at that time. Then, after we were all done distributing the fliers house-to-house, we went into the neighborhood. She knew where to go. She knew where the people were looking, every ethnic group you can think of. She’d say, “Don’t ever bring little Johnny to me again. He took the fliers and he threw them in the sewer.” She knew everything. She’d say, “He can never work for me again. The kid’s not honest.”
One of us, we might go in and we’d say, “That kid sat down on the curb. He didn’t want to deliver the fliers.” She’d say, “He can never work for me again.” She had that touch of, “what do you do when you have no money? How do you tell them where you are?” That was also one of her ideas. She has always believed in advertising. She got into television advertising. It was a remarkable thing. Once television hit, of course, then you hit a very broad market. That market created (although word of mouth had done it prior to that time), the regional market. If you look in the parking lot of the store (that’s one of the exciting things we always used to check), you would see Iowa, Missouri, South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota, and they would come from all the little towns in Nebraska.
(End of the interview with Mrs. Blumkin in the store)
INTERVIEWER: It is now May 6th, in the afternoon. We are at the Ramada Inn in Omaha and I’m with Mrs. Frances Batt whose mother is Mrs. Blumkin. We did an interview the other day with Mrs. Blumkin. Mrs. Batt was there and very kindly filled in a great deal. She has consented to sit with me because I know now, that she knows almost everything else we need to complete our interview. So, thank you for coming, Mrs. Batt.
BATT: You’re welcome.
INTERVIEWER: Let me read to you a little statement which I was supposed to read to her, but I didn’t. “Thank you for taking so much time today and Sunday for this important contribution to our furniture industry. I have enjoyed it thoroughly. Keep in mind that you may request a follow up interview later if you wish.” That’s purely a formal thing. Now I have gone over these questions and actually between you and her the other day, we covered almost all of it; but there are a few things. First thing, spell the name of the village in Russia.
INTERVIEWER: What did Mrs. Blumkin think of the play, “Fiddler on the Roof”?
BATT: I asked her once and she said, “I saw that play, by Sholem Aleichem. I saw it in Russia as a play. It was called “Tevye the Milkman”. She saw it in the big city (for probably very cheap) where she worked. The city was Gomel, where she got her first job when she was 13.
INTERVIEWER: I mentioned Morris Futorian. He gave me my second college education.
BATT: I believe she knew him, in Chicago?
INTERVIEWER: Yes, she is bound to have known him.
BATT: I think he was one of the people who was very good to her when times were tough.
INTERVIEWER: At which time? You see, he started out reupholstering furniture. Driving a taxicab and the last trip of the night he would go by and pick up a piece of furniture, put it in the taxicab, and take it home. He and his father would reupholster it and the next morning he would deliver it. But, later he started a factory down in Mississippi. That’s where I worked for him.
BATT: What did you do for him?
INTERVIEWER: I was a sales manager, in fact a regional plant and sales manager. He was a wonderful person.
BATT: So this is in your blood, too.
INTERVIEWER: He was from Vilna, Latvia. Was it Vilna that had the noted rabbi that was called a “Gaon”? He was the Vilna Gaon. Morrie quite frequently talked about the Vilna Gaon. He left Russia a little before Mrs. Blumkin left, with his parents because of the pogroms. They decided that Latvia was no place that they wanted to live, and they moved to the United States.
Sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt. Then next question that was left out: Was your family in furniture? Or your in-laws? Tell us about them.
Obviously she had no furniture in her background, but as you were explaining to me on your display wall, there is quite a lot of furniture from her beginnings onward. I had never realized that Mrs. Charles Schneider was your sister. They’re wonderful people.
BATT: It’s my sister and her husband. He started out very modestly and he did very well.
INTERVIEWER: He still is doing very well.
INTERVIEWER: It’s their son who has done all the computer work?
BATT: Yes, Bruce Schneider, his son, that’s correct. Also he’s head of Future Foam which is one of the divisions. They were pioneers. Charlie himself was a pioneer in foam. He traveled the world and my sister did a lot of traveling with him. She takes after my mother a lot. I am very proud of her. They traveled the world to look at foam factories. Charlie has this wonderful engineering mind, the chemicals that went into it [foam]]]] and the formulas. I know my sister helped him for a while. They would travel the world for fabrics and ideas.
INTERVIEWER: What about your other sister?
BATT: My other sister, Sylvia Cone, that’s our youngest sister, she’s married to Jerome Cone. It was part of our family entering the furniture business. She was married during the war in 1946, and Jerry came to work in the furniture store. I was married in 1945 to my husband, Norman Batt. He is actually from Chicago, although he was born in Omaha. I missed home a lot and we left Chicago, where his family was, to come here. He worked for the store. My brother, Louie, was married in 1946, also to an Omaha girl, and of course, he worked at the store.
INTERVIEWER: Everybody worked at the store.
BATT: Right. If you could walk, you were working.
INTERVIEWER: Of course, Louie is quite famous in the industry.
BATT: Yes, he is.
INTERVIEWER: Irving is his son, so you do still have family in furniture. We’ve covered that.
BATT: Yes, actually one of my sons is in it right now. He is an executive vice president. He does a lot of buying for the carpet department. He goes all over America and abroad.
INTERVIEWER: The questions are addressed to Mrs. Blumkin, but of course you’re in a proxy position. The next question is: Describe your growing-up years.
She told us about going to work at 13. Are there any other interesting stories about her childhood?
BATT: From my mother’s own stories about her childhood, she was deeply devoted to her mother. She learned so many of her values and her inspiration from her mother. Her mother went to work, as I think she told you, with a small grocery store, in effect, [working]]]] in the house with the eight children; only her mother and father had a separate room. It was a log cabin. The major part of the house, which was very small, was where all the children slept on the floor on straw mattresses. They had a big oven and outside plumbing – everything was outside. She watched her mother work from the time she was a tiny child.
For my mother, maybe it was inborn or maybe it was her talent at a very tender age, you see, she loved her mother so much but she also adopted her feeling for work. She says, “There is no substitute for work. It’s the most wonderful thing in the whole world.” And as I told you, when she was 6 years old, when she saw her mother baking at night along with the little grocery business, and she told her mother, “When I grow up, I am going to go to America. I’m going to get a job. I’m going to bring my whole family over to America.”
That was a wonderful goal, which was very, very common in most of Europe where people suffered badly, especially Jewish people, and pogroms were one of the reasons. My mother witnessed people in her family being killed and that was burned in her consciousness.
INTERVIEWER: Morrie said, “The peasants would go out and say, ‘Let’s go and kill some Jews.’”
BATT: Exactly, for no reason whatsoever. So, one day I said to my mother, “What did you play when you were a little girl?” She said, “Who played? I never played. All I did was work.” When she was old enough, she would dig potatoes in the field. I mean that’s a pretty heavy job for a child. She said one day her mother said to her (my mother could have been about 10), “My daughter, I don’t want you to work like that digging in the fields. It’s too hard for you and you’re too little.” My mother said to her, “Why? That’s silly. Do you realize that I earned today (the equivalent of maybe) 25 cents? Look how many loaves of bread we can get for the 25 cents.” She said, “I liked it and I enjoyed it.” That was her attitude from the time she could walk. She saw work as a means of getting to that wonderful lofty place that she wanted to be. She was very, very, young, 6 years old, when she said, “I’m going to America.”
INTERVIEWER: How old was she when she left for Gomel? I want you to describe that. I didn’t hear about that until you showed us the wall.
BATT: What happened was that by the time my mother was 13, she was full of confidence and ability. She left her little village of Shchedrin and it was 18 miles [to the train station]]]].
She was always helping her mother sell goods, dig in the field, or whatever they could do to earn a cent, or anything that was valuable. She never looked down on one penny and that hasn’t changed. My mother told her mother, “I am going to go and find a job.” She was 13 years old. My grandmother had a pair of leather shoes made for her because most of the time she ran around barefoot with no shoes. Part of it was the money. Whatever else she wore, I don’t know.
So the train station was 18 miles away. My mother put the shoes on her back and walked barefoot because she didn’t want to use the leather. She wanted to save the shoes for when she got to the big town, which is called Gomel. She went from place to place saying, “I need a job. You hire me and I’ll do a good job for you.” She went to 26 places, this little 13-year-old girl. As I said, she was very tiny. She never did reach over 4 feet 10 inches. It was the 26th place. The man had a general store – a variety store. He sold everything: he sold fabrics; he sold shoes; he sold thread, and probably anything you name that would be in a general store. She said to this man, who incidentally was Jewish, “Try me. If I don’t do the job for you then you don’t have to keep me. But believe me, I can do the job.”
Well it turned out to be a wonderful relationship. They treated her, number one, as a child, which she was. They treated her as a daughter. She lived with them. One of the reasons that it was good for my mother was because my mother ate only kosher foods. So, she really had a home. They were very good to her. What was so extraordinary was that she finally became the manager and all the other employees were men. I forget what she said. I think she said it was maybe six men. So it had to be quite a large store. You see it was a railroad town. They would have people come from other countries. They would come from Germany and Poland, but it was a very large railroad junction so they came from everywhere. She stayed there until she was 19 years old.
At that time, she met my dad and then they were married. She worked there until she was married. What was interesting, by that time, she said, “My boss would say, ‘I think I’ll buy these yard goods here for ladies’ dresses.’” She told him, “You’re not buying the right goods. You’re not paying the right price. Leave it to me. I’ll buy the right fabrics. I’ll put on the right price.” He gave her full reign because she was extraordinary.
So then my mother did not work there anymore because she went home, and my mother and father were married. That was one thing that my mother had – so much pride. She would never borrow any money. That was one of the tenets, incidentally, if that was possible. Later on she had to borrow money in order to be in business. My grandmother despaired and cried. She said, “I can’t really give you a big wedding because we don’t have anything.” My mother said, “Why should we go borrow money to spend on a wedding when I can do without a big wedding? We don’t have the money and I don’t want to borrow the money.” My mother said the big feast was two pounds of rice for the few people who came. That was 1914. My dad and mother were married in March of 1914. Then just about that time (it was March or April), World War I erupted. The plan always, no matter who it was in the family, was to get to America.
Actually, my mother’s two brothers, Mayer Gorelick, which is my mother’s maiden name, and her older brother, Sam Gorelick, preceded my mother. They went to America in 1910 or thereabouts. Then, my parents had money for only one ticket, so my father went in March of 1914 to join those two brothers of hers, who eventually ended up in Iowa. My mother was left behind and could not reach America because the war was going on.
INTERVIEWER: They went going west, right?
BATT: They went by going through New York.
INTERVIEWER: She went east, the long way.
BATT: Yes, the long way, exactly. On that particular journey, where she started out again from her little village Shchedrin, she went to Gomel where she got the Trans-Siberian Railroad. The wonder of it all is that she had no ticket for the train. She had no passport and she traveled thousands of miles on the Trans-Siberian Railroad. She came to the border between Russia and China. By that time she had a little pack, but everything was stolen: her wedding ring, her few little pictures and I think most of her money. When they got to the border crossing between Russia and China, a Russian soldier said to her, “Where is your passport?” She said to him, “Well, I’m only going to buy leather for the Russian Army.” She said, “You let me through and I will bring you back a bottle of vodka.”
That soldier is still waiting for the bottle of vodka. She was fortunate enough to stay on the train and what she did most of the time was hide under the benches so that the conductors would not see her so that she wouldn’t be taken off the train. She went through Manchuria and China.
At that point she boarded some kind of a boat to get to Japan. She left around January 1st. She recalled the day so vividly because it was the day Rasputin was discovered dead. They actually tried to shoot him; they tried to poison him. It didn’t work. They finally threw him in the river and he drowned. The day she left she said there were extras of the newspapers proclaiming, “Rasputin is dead.” That was around the 1st of January, 1917. When she reached Japan, she actually landed in Yokohama. She had to wait for her ship for about two weeks.
She recalls vividly everything about Yokohama. She tells a beautiful story about it. She’d never seen anything like it. Some way or another they got to a railroad station (how I don’t know!), but they had beautiful Japanese lanterns lit. She always talks about how much she loves Japanese lanterns.
There they were put up in a hotel and there were a lot of Jewish people that were waiting for the ship. There were men and women who would tell stories while they were waiting. Everyone was regaled with laughter when one of the men came and said that he went where there was a public bath, and men and women were bathing together. They really thought that was amusing.
At any rate, she boarded the ship, probably around March 1st or the latter part of February. She had a terrible trip. It was a peanut boat. First of all, she could not eat. Then she actually paid for a better ticket, but she was put in steerage. One of the stops was Kobe, and there were one or two more. The name of the ship was Ava Maru, which she remembered, and she remembered landing in Seattle very, very vividly. She said her face was all swollen and with no passport she came up to customs and they said, “Can you read and write?” She said, “Of course (because my mother is literate in Yiddish).” She could read and write, but couldn’t understand a word of English. They must have asked her in Yiddish. They let her through. She tells of what a wonderful reception she got. The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, which is called HIAS, is still in existence today, and has helped Jews all over the world.
For all the Jewish passengers it was the holiday called Purim, with Queen Esther. It is about how Queen Esther saved the Jews, and how Haman, the villain, was done away with. At any rate, they had a kosher meal in a hotel. That was the first food she’d had in weeks. She remembered the menu. They had roast meat, potatoes, and hamantaschen. (That is a three-cornered little kolache, which is supposed to resemble Haman’s hat.) She was put on a train, which went first to Minneapolis, then on to Iowa. They hung a tag around her neck which had her name and destination. She traveled by train until she reached Iowa. Actually, she reached Dubuque, Iowa, first. There were her two brothers and my father. Of course, she said, naturally, that that was one of the happiest days of her life. My father was a peddler. One of my uncles, Uncle Sam, had actually been in the university because he had gone to be an engineer.
My parents moved on to Fort Dodge, Iowa, where, incidentally, I was born. My mother was devastated because she couldn’t speak the language. It was so difficult. Of course, she yearned for her family, and yearned for a bigger city. Finally, they decided, all of them, to go to Omaha, Nebraska, where there was a bigger city, and more opportunities. More than anything, somewhere my mother could see people, talk to people. The one thing . . . believe it or not, she will never forget Fort Dodge, Iowa. Even without her knowing one word of English, the neighbors helped her when I was born. They did everything they could. They brought her things, all of the neighbors.
INTERVIEWER: Now all of this was because she could only speak Yiddish?
BATT: That’s right. So they had no communication, but with their kindness, they didn’t need a language.
INTERVIEWER: Is there a Jewish community in Fort Dodge?
BATT: Very little. Yes, very, very small. She never ever forgot their kindness. I want you to know that years later, actually I think it was about 15 years ago, she would help them with their United Fund. Somebody would come in from Fort Dodge and she’d say, “I’ll never forget you and I want to give you something.” This time my mother did as usual – she picked her ambassador. This time I was it. I was born in Fort Dodge so I said, “Great, I’ll go.” She said, “I want you to go and find out if there is somebody who is really in need. I want to help Fort Dodge in someway.” Well, my husband, Norman, and I drove with another couple. I had contacted the editor of the local newspaper and said to him, “This is what my mother wants. She wants to do something for the people of Fort Dodge.” He sent us to, I believe it was, Webster County Home. It was for people who were indigent or unable to help themselves. We went there and we asked, “How can we help you?” One thing they wanted for the individuals that lived there was a big television set. Then one of the rooms wanted carpeting for the people so it would be a warmer spot.
She has done this all through her life. She never forgets those who were good to her, and again she has this incredible burning fire within her which is always saying, “I know what it’s like to be poor. I want to make it easier for those people who are truly in need, not freeloaders.” She can spot them a mile away.
INTERVIEWER: I think that’s impressive. We have now covered her first furniture job. When she first opened the store she told me she bought from Orchard and Wilhelm at wholesale. Was there anybody else that she dealt with early on?
BATT: Well, William Volker sold carpet. There was, somewhere within Brandies I believe, a wholesale division. In Omaha, those are the ones that come to my mind now. Remember the other day I was saying the innovations that my mother had? I don’t want to forget it. One of her innovations was the warehouse sale. She’d say, “Let’s try something different. Things are not good. We’ve got to sell the inventory. We’ve got too much inventory.” So, by then we had a big enough store so that the warehouse really was in another area. Off to the warehouse everybody went to have a warehouse sale to get rid of the inventory.
Then one of her methods, she calls it “bootlegging”, is just using her brain. I remember, all of us children, it really preceded the furniture business. What was her method? How did she get goods that she could never get and they wouldn’t sell her? I remember from my father’s store that when we had to buy Levis direct from the company, they cost maybe $2 a pair. But, every once in awhile Brandies would have a loss leader and sell them for $1.
Every relative who could walk was sent to Brandeis to buy them – actually under cost.
The goods were whatever was possible. It could have extended to shirts or any kind of clothing like my father sold. She would dream up these things. She would say, “That’s one way to get goods cheaper than wholesale.”
She never missed an opportunity, and she was constantly thinking of ideas of where certain lines were cut off for her, or weren’t available in the area. She would think of some way. She would call up somebody in another city and say, “Do you know anybody who sells that line?” I remember one time I went to California and she had said in advance, “You know they won’t sell me that line and I’ve got to get it. Why? Because this is special, this is a decorator line.” Maybe she could make a little more money.
We would go to California, my husband and I, and we always were like visiting firemen, it’s the same thing. We love furniture. We love carpet. So, we’re shopping and there is this beautiful shop. I walk in and say, “My mother has a store and she is really interested in this particular brand. She’s unable to buy it.” I think I told him the accurate story. I can’t quite remember. I said, “Would you consider selling us your carpet for maybe a little bit above cost, not retail?” He said, “Sure.” That’s the way it was in other cities. Chicago was a regular destination. She used Kansas City. She used St. Louis. Anyplace that would give her the opportunity first to give to the customer what he or she wanted. So, those are some of the ideas that she came up with.
INTERVIEWER: Do you remember any of the furniture lines that were involved in that practice?
BATT: Gee, that’s where I’d like to be accurate and I cannot. But, I can tell you it was quite a few.
INTERVIEWER: What year would that have been?
BATT: Well she opened the Nebraska Furniture Mart in 1937. In 1937, she and I both went to the Chicago Furniture Market. In later years, of course, it was in the Merchandise Mart. I know we went that first year.
INTERVIEWER: Most of the people that I have interviewed have well remembered the Chicago Market over the years. Of course everybody had to go to Chicago to the Market. I’ve heard some interesting stories about the Chicago Market. So, the first Market you attended, she said, was in 1937?
BATT: That’s correct.
INTERVIEWER: Obviously, you were with her. What can you tell us about the Chicago Market in 1937? Was it over in the Lake Shore Drive building?
BATT: It was the old American Furniture Mart.
INTERVIEWER: Which was at 666 Lake Shore Drive, but there was an earlier...
BATT: It wasn’t on Lake Shore Drive.
INTERVIEWER: The Market started out in a warehouse, down by the railroad station.
BATT: No, no. This was a big beautiful building. All I know is there were lots of elevators, lots of people. I had never seen anything like it in my life.
INTERVIEWER: Could you look out the front and see the lake?
BATT: I don’t believe so.
INTERVIEWER: What was the man’s name . . . Frank Whiting? But, you know the Market was in Grand Rapids before it was in Chicago.
BATT: Right. She did not go to Grand Rapids.
INTERVIEWER: Whiting built the big new building on Lake Shore Drive, which is still there at 666, the American Furniture Mart.
BATT: Well that had to be the one because it was a beautiful building.
INTERVIEWER: It had the elevators that had no inside doors. Do you remember those? You know, as you crowded in, the door closed. But the car itself had no door. You were packed in there and floors were flying by you two inches from your nose.
BATT: All I remember is the sardine pack in the elevator, and the hundreds of people in the corridors.
What was amazing, frankly, is as I watched my mother, she knew what she wanted in goods. From the very first time she went to any Market she had a wonderful eye for what style of furniture, and later on, branched into carpet of course. She looked for quality. That was probably one of the outstanding traits of Nebraska Furniture Mart. She believed you’ll do better with quality than trying to sell cheap goods and make a profit. If it looked liked the furniture was spindly or wasn’t well made, my mother would pass it by. She’d say, “That’s no bargain. When we sell to somebody we want it forever.” In those days you weren’t into the redecorating mode. When you bought a piece of furniture it was for life.
At Market, she would state very honestly to the vendor or whoever was in charge in the showroom, “I don’t have any money but if I buy something from you, you give me whatever the terms are. One thing I’ll never do is cheat you, or not pay my bill.”
The reason those Market salespeople were receptive was they couldn’t move many goods. America was at a standstill. It was coming out of the depths of the Depression, but still many people didn’t have work. So, one thing my mother looked for was to buy goods that were in, what she called “the average person’s needs.” She’s always had this great feeling for the man or woman who works hard, doesn’t make very much money, but also needs a bed, table and chairs, or whatever is needed to make a home. She always, because of her background, refused to take too much profit. That’s one of the reasons our store succeeded. It was like a religion. She says, “I’m not going to do it.”
Incidentally, there was a huge furniture store in Omaha called Union Outfitting. It was wiped out, went out of business.
INTERVIEWER: What was the store?
BATT: Union Outfitting. It was a very large operation and they had a very large warehouse. But one of the things about that store was what we called, “$1 down, $1 a week.” Those people were not really looking out for the customer. They would charge, sometimes, 200 percent profit. So, the profit was so high that the customer was paying forever for furniture.
Well, my mother says, “I don’t think that’s right, when people have no money. First of all, I’m not going to charge them too much profit because I know what it is to be poor.” That was one of the beautiful things I think. My mother was the kind of person where, she was on the brink of civil rights or whatever you want to call it, but every customer that walked into our Nebraska Furniture Mart in the early years was treated with respect. It didn’t matter if you worked in the packinghouse, or if you were working as a yard man, whatever your vocation was. It was funny. A banker would come in and say they loved to save money too. So, our customers covered all the economic spectrums. The major thing was that every person, no matter what race, creed, or color, each one was treated with respect.
All of a sudden people learned they could buy so much more for their home at our store for the same amount of money. I’d say for $100 — you could practically buy a bedroom set and furniture for your kitchen for that kind of money. Our advertising was word of mouth. People came from every neighborhood, from every part of the city; they started to come because of word of mouth. One neighbor would tell another neighbor. That was really the secret of the stores’ success. It was genuine. It wasn’t done as a promotion. It was her genuine wish to supply what the customer needed, treat them with respect, and, if something didn’t work right, you take care of it. We learned from the time we could breathe that you always treat the customer like a king or a queen.
We have another funny story. My father was really the teacher. He said, “No matter what happens, or you don’t like it, you smile. You don’t frown. We need the customer. They don’t need us. They can go to our competition and buy something. We have to do something to keep them here.” That was my mother’s credo, too, and it grew and grew. I would say that now we’re into 1997, and the business started in 1937. I will tell you she actually initiated this furniture business because my dad had a pawnshop where he had guns, men’s clothing, etc.
She started out in the basement selling stuff like . . . somebody would say, “I need a work shirt or a fur coat.” Well somebody said, “You know, I need a bed. Do you know anyplace where I could buy a bed? Do you know anyplace where I could buy a carpet?” She would say, “I can get it. I can get it for you wholesale.” That’s how she really started. She really started or initiated from the general dry goods background that she had from Russia. She branched out so that wherever she felt she could make a dime, she would do so. She had this feeling for it and one time someone said to her, “Why did you happen to choose the furniture business?” She said, “Because it’s such a happy business. What happens is a couple gets married and they’re happy. Then all of a sudden they’ve got a new baby. OK, we need a crib. Pretty soon they say this house is too small. We have to move to a bigger house. What could be happier than the furniture business?” She just loved it and she loved her customers.
INTERVIEWER: I want to ask you to expand a little bit. We talked about this on Sunday, but if you could add to it, that would be helpful. What has been Mrs. Blumkin’s central personal goal in business?
BATT: I’ve known what her goal was, from the time that I was old enough to watch her. That was to help a customer get what he or she wanted. To supply them with a quality product, but not only a quality product, something that had good design.
The same thing goes for carpet. I think more than anything, quality was a top priority for her. Naturally, the place which made the difference between could a customer buy something or not, was the price.
How did she get to a price? She was sharp-eyed about watching her competitor. She watched her expenses so that pennies were vital to her. You could buy the cheapest goods in town, by that I mean a good price, but if you start using a truck, it costs money. She didn’t believe in vacations for herself or anybody else. One wonderful thing was an extended family. Anybody who could help would help, and that cut down on expenses. Like I said, with her children, we never knew that people got paid for working. Her goal was to make sure that a customer got what he wanted. She was looking at quality and what she would call “a guarantee”.
I can give you a perfect example, which actually started out when she got in the fur coat business. She would buy a seal coat. You could not sell fur coats. The luxury items were dead, but people were cold. She had this supplier in Kansas City and nothing could make that guy happier than to come up here and sell some of his fur coats that he could not sell anywhere else. So he would sell us a fur coat for $30.
The downtown stores would take that same seal coat and I think they charged maybe $200. You could take it on payments downtown, with a one year guarantee. Well my mother would outdo them. She would not only sell the coat for $35, she would give the customer a two-year guarantee. Down would come the merchants to my mother saying, “You can’t do that. You’re not selling it at a fair price. We’re going to call you up in front of the retailer’s association.” She said, “Well I’m not going but I’m going to send my daughter, (me).”
I’m in school and I go up and talk to the retailers and say, “Look, a lot of people don’t have the money to buy a coat. My mother wants to treat them fairly, so she sells them for very little profit because my mother says, ‘a profit is a profit.’ If she sells a lot of coats she can make it. What’s wrong with giving the customer a fair shake?” My mother said, “If they give a year, I’m going to outdo them. I’ll give them two years.” So, at the end of the meeting, I want you to know that one of the retailers offers me a job and says, “Case closed.” This extended naturally into furniture, carpet and all accessories that were available at Nebraska Furniture Mart.
And one thing, if a customer would call with a legitimate complaint or something wasn’t working (which happens from time to time), mother would say, “Don’t worry, Mrs. Jones, I’ll send out our finisher and we’ll finish it. If it’s broken we’ll take it back and we’ll get you another one.” If a woman comes home and she says, “I picked the wrong color. I made a mistake, but I hate it.” My mother would say, “Don’t cry, bring it back and we’ll take care of you.” That was one of her tenets. She’d say, “We will take care of you, honey, don’t cry about things like that. It’s not important. We can fix it.” So, that idea of service and keeping your word to your customer, of course, paid dividends.
INTERVIEWER: My next question is: what was your personal goal? We’ve covered her company goal. But, in Mrs. Blumkin’s case, there was no difference. I can’t seem to differentiate between personal and company goals for her.
BATT: None. It’s a strange thing. The company, from the day it was born, she and it were synonymous. There really is no division. I mean, there is the same idea of good prices, wide variety, and good quality. They are intertwined – the company and Mrs. Blumkin.
INTERVIEWER: The next question, what are the overriding business philosophies? Well, that’s the same thing, isn’t it?
BATT: Well, she will tell you a hundred times, “Sell cheap, tell the truth, and don’t take kickbacks.” When she gave a speech at New York University when she received her honorary doctorate for commercial science, (the first woman in a hundred years at New York University), each person got to give a little speech. There were about six honorees. She got up there and she wowed them. She said, “Sell cheap, tell the truth, and don’t take kickbacks.” She brought down the house. Warren Buffett was there, of course, he was the responsible individual who made that all possible with, Larry Tish.
INTERVIEWER: What has been Mrs. Blumkin’s greatest contribution to the furniture industry?
BATT: The first thing that comes to mind is her philosophy – which is not only in the furniture industry – which is, “Set your goals high, and really don’t have what you would call a top. You should go for the heavens.” No matter what year it was, whether it was in the early years where times were desperate and there weren’t enough customers. Later it was hard to get merchandise, which ran over into the World War II years; that was another whole picture of where very little was available.
I’d say “You shoot for the stars” is her philosophy in any kind of business, and that you don’t put up, what I’d call, an artificial top. She never had a top. She just said, “I’m going to do this.”
She isn’t like what you’d have today where you would sit down in a session, and you would say, “What’s the mission of our company?” I heard Warren Buffett yesterday . . . One of the reasons they have so many similarities (and it’s from the inside of them), is what he said yesterday, which my mother has said from the time that I could talk is, “I don’t want any meetings. I don’t want any committees. If you need something you go directly to the person. You don’t need a middleman.”
That was part of her success. She would cut down these extraneous levels of management. She would take the shortest distance between two points. She would never think about it but she would go from point A to point B. She never was, and I don’t believe she is today, distracted about whether she should make a side trip to get to point B. She puts her eye on the route and she doesn’t deviate from that. She goes straight to the heart of the matter whether it’s her expenses, buying inventory, or hiring personnel.
She takes the shortest route. She has saved innumerable – millions, hours. You put your strength where it is needed. You don’t fritter it away with meetings and useless trips. When you do your business you always have to be alert. When you go out of the city (and my mother made it a habit when going to the Market,) she would always take somebody with her. In the early years, for instance, my dad would go too. I went to her first Market in 1937. She even started taking the grandchildren.
I remember one of my sons was 15 years old and my mother said, “We’re going to the carpet market.” And off they went. She never had a barrier with age, incidentally. No matter if it was a child or a grandchild. The fact that you’re 10 or 15 means absolutely nothing. She would know what their capabilities were. She’d say, “We’re going to go to Market and this is what we’re going to do.” But as far as the decisions, believe me, we could watch and learn that she was the decision-maker. That was, I think, also what made her so great. She didn’t have to go back home and say, “Do you think you like this merchandise I bought?” She never asked anybody. She was the sole decision-maker.
INTERVIEWER: That goes right into the next question: what is the involvement of your family business in the community? We covered that when I learned last night about the theater.
BATT: Did you get to see it?
INTERVIEWER: No, but I was reading about it.
BATT: Well, I believe it is here in this book. It is in her honor; it’s called, “The Rose”, for short. In her honor they named it the Rose Blumkin Performing Arts Center. That is the actual formal name. She saved the building.
INTERVIEWER: That’s what the story in the paper was about, the building that was imploded yesterday – Sunday. It was not saved. The paper pointed out that right down the street is the Rose Blumkin Theater, which she saved.
BATT: Is that right? I didn’t read that. I haven’t had a chance to read that stuff. That is one of her great contributions, and of course, one of the things that made her happiest about that particular building – that was a Buffett connection, which was just thrilling. As I told you, Warren Buffett’s daughter, Susie (his wife’s name is Susie too), led the drive for the children’s theater to buy it. She is full of charm, very bright. She would say the original goal was $4 million, but it ended up $9 million.
She had this single purpose in her mind, and in her life: to raise the money to allow the theater to operate. That is, to get it renovated and then use it for the children’s theater. So we now have a children’s theater which is one of the most beautiful in the whole country. The theater itself, which is now called the Omaha Theater Company for Children, is one of the great theater companies for children in the United States.
Now, just starting a few years ago, they were invited to go to the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, to present a play that was given here in Omaha, Nebraska. I think they were invited two or three years, or the last few years, for a performance. That made my mother extremely happy. She loves kids. That was the most wonderful use that anybody could think of. It was a wonderful amalgamation.
INTERVIEWER: Was there anything else?
BATT: Well, of course, the other thing was that she has this abiding love and caring for the elderly. In the Jewish community . . . there was a decision made by the Omaha Jewish Federation. There was a home for the elderly called the Dr. Share Home. It had outgrown its present building. They said, “We must have a new building or build it.” My mother was the first batter up at the plate. It was a source of great pride. The amount on that particular building was $4 million. So my mother and all of us contributed, I believe it was the first million. Then the Omaha Jewish community along with non-Jewish members contributed the rest.
In honor of my mother, they named the building the Rose Blumkin Jewish Home. Several years later after the $4 million building was built, they actually ran out of room and they needed an addition. My mother was at the forefront again. That’s one of the things that is closest to her heart because, number one she has always had this deep and abiding feeling for the elderly, the sick, and most of all people who cannot help themselves, ones that are genuinely in need. Truthfully, it isn’t that they’re indigent, but that they need a place when they need care, and they can no longer take care of themselves. The Rose Blumkin Jewish Home was actually built about 1980. The Rose Blumkin Performing Arts Center was given as a gift in 1993. It took only about a year from the time that they started construction, when they saw that they could raise the money. It was completed in November of 1996. Restoration started in 1995. It was just a little over a year.
INTERVIEWER: Is there anything else that is a specific involvement sort of thing?
BATT: Well, on a very broad scale, when my mother sees the need, I believe I mentioned it in your previous tape, it’s not necessarily restricted to Nebraska. Wherever my mother sees a need, she wakes up early and she’s right there in front to help them. I think I mentioned, for instance, the flood in South Dakota where she helped them, and some of the major catastrophes in America. She would send these truckloads of carpeting. She would give money too.
INTERVIEWER: Does she have a favorite charity?
BATT: Truly, as far as her favorite charity, I would say that the one on top would be something to help the elderly. She hasn’t mentioned one favorite charity truthfully. Again, it’s like she takes the shortest distance between two points. She sees a need and she tries to help.
INTERVIEWER: The last question, which is almost like a joke now, is what is her principal leisure time activity?
BATT: Well, my mother always says, “Who needs vacations? I don’t need a rest. I love being in business.”
I think she truly exhibits that principle up until today. She is 103 years and 4 months [old]]]]; we’re now into May of 1997. And where her zest truthfully is (even though her body is weak, she doesn’t move so well and she certainly doesn’t have the kind of speed that she had), her greatest thrill is being at work and dealing with customers. It’s like I always say – it’s her oxygen. She cannot exist without it. That’s her life.
INTERVIEWER: That’s exemplified by what happened the other day. She said, “If we’re through, bring me a customer.”
BATT: I told somebody . . . A reporter stopped me yesterday. They always ask about my mother and I told them about that.
INTERVIEWER: What would you like to add in summary?
BATT: When I think about my mother, it’s a matter, to me, of great pride that a little woman, before the feminist movement, who suffered the oppression of a Czarist government where, in particular Jews had no life, and she had no money, that her dreams were as high as the moon. They were as high as the moon and I think that’s one of the most beautiful parts about her. She has never stopped dreaming and she has never stopped working.
To her, it’s the thrill of the chase, to be involved with people but to deal with them. She’s happy selling them, that’s for sure, but she wants that customer to be happy when he or she is buying something that she is selling. She is such a dynamo and she is of such heroic proportions that as a daughter of hers, I am constantly in awe of her great ambition at this stage of her life. When another person would sit in a rocking chair, she’d think it was a disgrace. You don’t sit in a rocking chair. You move. Believe me, even as weak as she is, her greatest happiness these days (she is really limited), is to put the oxygen tank on the cart and to drive her cart, not slowly, but with great speed, to survey her kingdom, which is now the carpet kingdom, and to deal with people. To make them happy makes her happy.
INTERVIEWER: Perfect. Thank you very much.