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NEW YORK – CE retailing lost two legends and a favorite son with the recent deaths of Louie Blumkin, Dick Lewis and Rich Woolfson.
Louie Blumkin, son of Nebraska Furniture Mart founder Rose Blumkin and head of the family business for nearly 40 years, died last month at 93. He is credited with building his mother’s fledgling furniture store into the nation’s largest home-furnishings emporium, and arranging the sale of a majority stake to billionaire Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway in 1983.
Blumkin ran the company as president after his return from World War II, where he landed on Omaha Beach, fought in the Battle of the Bulge and helped liberate Dachau. He supported zoos, parks, universities and fine arts groups, and grew sales to $150 million when he handed the reins to sons Irv, CEO, and Ron, president, sales, in 1988.
Richard David “Dick” Lewis, cofounder of the New York CE chain Newmark & Lewis, died on March 2. He was 83.
The chain, founded in 1956 and based in Hicksville, N.Y., shut its doors in 1992, but in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s was the largest CE and appliances retailer in the New York metro area, with almost 70 stores. Its ubiquitous and quirky local TV ads — featuring the tagline “Dick Lewis is Watching!” — made him a regional household name.
Rich Woolfson, executive director of NECO Alliance member Intercounty Appliance, died unexpectedly last month at the age of 54. Woolfson joined the Long Island appliance and CE buying co-op in 1989 as an operations manager and was promoted to buyer two years later. He was named executive director in 2008.
During that time he spearheaded initiatives to increase Intercounty’s dealer membership and sales, and was instrumental in the formation of NECO (The Northeast Company), a division of the Nationwide Marketing Group, which unified five regional buying cooperatives into one of the nation’s largest distribution channels for major appliances.
In a statement, NECO’s executive director Anthony Bruno said Woolfson’s “passion and expertise in negotiations, operations, finance and product knowledge provided an invaluable resource to the organization and became the foundation of its success. His zest for life, love of friends and detail to planning could always be counted on and will be remembered as some of his most endearing qualities.”
In lieu of flowers, the family suggested a donation be made to the American Heart Association.
Donations in Blumkin’s memory may be made to The Rose Theater, Attn: Omaha Theater Company, Julie Walker, 2001 Farnam St., Omaha, NE 68102; and the University of Nebraska Foundation, Nebraska Neuroscience Alliance, 2285 S. 67th Street, Suite 200, Omaha, NE 68106.