Rose Blumkin’s Journey to America
Rose Blumkin, or Mrs. B as she was more affectionately known, became the founder of Nebraska Furniture Mart in 1937 with $500 and a small basement store in Omaha, Nebraska. She would set in place values and business practices that would help it grow into America’s largest home furnishings store. Who she became was greatly influenced by her courageous journey which started in Russia in 1893.
On December 3, 1893, Rose Gorelick was born in Shirdeen, Russia – a small Jewish village located just outside of Minsk. Her father was a Rabbi with little income and her mother worked long hours running a small grocery store to help support their family of eight children. The work ethic of the Gorelick family started young as contribution from all children ensured food, shelter, and a better wellbeing for the entire family. At age six, Rose was also working in her mother’s grocery store and at 13 years old she left home to work in a larger city in order to make more money for the family. By the age of 16, she was a dry goods store manager and by 20 years of age she had her sights set on the American Dream.
Rose met and soon married a shoe salesman by the name of Isadore Blumkin who shared her same dream of America. When World War I broke out, Isadore made the decision to leave for America. It would be three years before the couple could reunite. Rose persevered in Isadore’s absence by opening her own dry goods store and saving every penny. By 1917, Rose had saved just enough to take a train to the Chinese-Siberian border. She was without a passport, but was cunning enough to bribe a border guard to let her cross. From there, she began a six-week voyage on a peanut boat to Seattle, Washington where she was denied entry because she had no visa. The American Red Cross and an immigrant aid society mercifully intervened and she was finally able to join her husband in the states.
Isadore and Rose first settled in the small, remote community of Fort Dodge, Iowa. In 1919, they moved to Omaha, Nebraska where there was a flourishing community of around 12,000 Russian and Yiddish immigrants. Isadore opened a pawn shop where the couple worked to save money for Rose’s family to escape the war-ravaged Russia. By 1922, they had saved enough to pay passage for Rose’s parents, four sisters, brother, and cousin to come to America. For the time being, Rose focused on family and stayed at home to care for her young children. Eventually, business called her back in 1937 and she opened Nebraska Furniture Mart in the basement of her husband’s pawn shop.
An American legend, Mrs. B worked until her retirement at the age of 103 years old! She knew early in life that honesty and integrity would serve her well, and those beliefs laid the foundation for Nebraska Furniture Mart’s rise to the regal status that it holds today. Until her death at 104 years of age, Rose Blumkin rode the crest of a simple business principle: “Sell cheap and tell the truth.” Today, Nebraska Furniture Mart is under the leadership of her two grandsons and Mrs. B’s philosophy, courageousness, and integrity are all still very much a part of the company and its people.