A crowd estimated at more than 2,000 politicians, dignitaries, neighbors and business associates joined one of the richest men in the world Thursday to help a family-founded firm unveil one of the 10 largest furniture showrooms in the country.
Omaha investor Warren Buffett is among those scheduled to cut the ribbon today on a more than $30 million renovation and expansion of Homemakers Furniture, including expansions to the showroom, parking lot, warehouse and distribution center.
Thursday night, Buffett spent three hours chatting with a handpicked audience that later lined up for roughly the length of a city block to have complimentary photos taken with him.
"What can you say?" said Mary Bowling, vice president of sales for furniture maker Jonathan Louis International. "Anytime you can hear Warren Buffett speak, it's inspirational."
Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway owns Nebraska Furniture Mart, the company that purchased Homemakers Furniture from Carl and Ina Merschman in 2000. Created in 1974, Homemakers is still run by the Merschman family.
President Dave Mersch-man, who introduced Buffett on Thursday, noted his deceased father's absence and said he thought that "tonight, Dad is smiling and would be proud."
Buffett later praised the family's spirit.
"In a broader sense, what happened with this store and this family is a metaphor for what's happened in America," Buffett told the crowd as he trumpeted an "American system" where people are free to unlock their capabilities.
"We're not too good at avoiding challenges, but we're marvelous at surmounting them," Buffett said. Looking around the store, he added, "I don't see how anyone can be a pessimist about the future of the country."
Responding to questions from the audience, Buffett later said he thought President Barack Obama has "done a first-class job," as has U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and others.
Other snippets included:
- On pollution controls contained in federal energy legislation: "We led the world into this, and we should lead the world out of it."
- On an oversupply of housing that's led to low prices: "Most of the problems in the housing market will be over in 18 months or something like that."
- On a mounting federal debt: "It is not dangerous where we are now. It may be dangerous where we are going."
- On taxes: "I would make the tax rates a little more progressive. I would help my cleaning lady and take a little more out of me."
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