Tag Archives: Nebraska Furniture Mart

Porch Pirates, Ahoy

February 25, 2019 by
Photography by provided

If you had a package stolen from your front porch over the holiday season, you weren’t alone. About 30 percent of Americans suffered the same fate at the hands of so-called “porch pirates.”

One NASA engineer went viral online with a video documenting how he invented a glitter bomb armed with fart spray to bedazzle and be-stink would-be thieves. It was joyful to watch, but most of us don’t have his experience building Mars rovers—or a handful of iPhones and custom circuit boards laying around—or even a soldering iron, for that matter.

Most civilians must rely on more modest security solutions. But the available options have become increasingly high-tech and convenient for non-engineers. Hence, the booming market for smart home security devices.

Having a package stolen from the front porch is aggravating, but it doesn’t quite rise to the level of burglary—i.e., someone kicking down the front door and looting the place.

The good news is burglaries in the United States dropped by 7.6 percent from 2016 to 2017. In Omaha, the rate remained relatively flat during that same time frame, though burglaries decreased by 11 percent during 2018 (according to statistics from the Omaha Police Department).

The FBI also reports that burglaries are three times more likely in homes without a security system.

Local retailers have an extensive selection of smart home and security measures that can get you started with something like a doorbell camera for about $100. A more complex solution—one that integrates automated lights, thermostats, cameras, and the works—can run several thousand dollars.

A workable solution, professionals say, should fit just about any budget.

“Regardless of the size of the home or income level, we can find a solution that works for your home and family specifically,” says Don McGuire, a design consultant at Atronic Alarms in Omaha.”Your necessity for security doesn’t change whether you own or rent,” he adds.

For those more interested in a DIY project, several kits are available locally, including at Nebraska Furniture Mart, which also has the ability to customize and install security systems.

“I like to joke with my customers that I can do anything from basic to bonkers,” says Russell Weaver, electronics sales manager at Nebraska Furniture Mart.

A basic doorbell camera installs on most homes’ low-voltage doorbell wiring systems for about $100. But the DIY crowd should know what they’re getting into.

“Where people struggle with that is that they don’t always know what they’re getting,” McGuire says. “Sometimes that works out, and sometimes it’s a disaster.”

A more complex system with a professional install will start at about $2,000, and might run another $20-$60 a month for a professional monitoring service.

“It varies on what you’re monitoring and all the bells and whistles,” McGuire says. “You could pay more, but you don’t need to. That’s an acceptable range.”

Around-the-clock professional monitoring services will contact police when necessary. A more robust security system and service could also monitor fire, health, water, and toxic fumes (such as carbon monoxide).

However, more people are relying on self-monitoring systems that integrate into smartphones. They can keep an eye on that garage door that someone always forgets to close; check the thermostat; or see who’s ringing the doorbell, no matter where in the world the homeowner might be at that particular moment.

Weaver and McGuire agree that the smartest first step toward a smart and secure home is a conversation with a design consultant.

“We’re supposed to be consultants,” McGuire says. “A salesperson pushes a product, a consultant helps you find what you need.”

For more information about smart home security options, consider contacting:

This list is not exhaustive. Potential buyers should shop around to find the best fit for their personal home security needs.

This article was printed in the March/April 2019 edition of OmahaHome. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

The Oracle of Omaha’s Edible Investments

April 29, 2018 by
Photography by Provided

Every spring, Berkshire Hathaway shareholders from around the globe convene in Omaha to hear the financial wisdom of legendary investors Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger. Shareholders also partake of some good grub. The annual Berkshire shareholders meeting’s organizers present attendees with an array of savory bites and tasty treats in the days surrounding the event.

This year, Berkshire subsidiary Borsheims will host a private cocktail reception for shareholders Friday, May 4 (6-9 p.m.), at Regency Court Shopping Center. The big tent will include live music and a complimentary bar and buffet featuring gourmet appetizers and a carving station provided by Abraham Catering. Indoors, guests shopping for designer jewelry and fine gifts will have access to a second buffet and bar. Investors may return for a complimentary brunch Sunday (9 a.m. to 4 p.m.) at Regency Court. Again, there’ll be live music, and guests can play table tennis with a former Olympian or partake in a game of bridge (one of Buffett’s favorite pastimes). Though not promised, Buffett may swing by for a bite and mingle with guests.

Subsidiary Nebraska Furniture Mart will hold a shareholders picnic Saturday (5:30-8 p.m.) at its Omaha and Texas locations. Cost is $5 and will cover food-truck fare and entertainment. Visitors looking to enjoy a good cut of Midwestern beef have another option. Gorat’s Steak House, one of Buffett’s preferred business lunch spots, will host a shareholders’ steak special from noon to 10 p.m. on Sunday. Reservations are required and space is limited, so red-meat lovers should act quickly.

A major tenet of Buffett’s investing strategy is “buy what you know,” and one thing the Oracle of Omaha knows well is America’s much-loved food brands. Here’s a partial list of Berkshire’s food/beverage subsidiaries and holdings.

 Dairy Queen

The soft-serve ice cream and fast-food chain is one of Buffett’s favorite investments, as he regularly frequents his neighborhood store for a treat—typically a sundae loaded with cherry topping and nuts. Berkshire purchased DQ in 1997. Today, the chain boasts more than 6,000 restaurants worldwide and is valued at a cool $585 million. During Berkshire weekend, $1 Dilly, Fudge, and Vanilla Orange Bars and $2 Mini Blizzard Treats will be sold at the meeting, with proceeds benefitting children’s hospitals. Investors can also get “buy one, get one” deals on Blizzards at Omaha DQ stores with their credentials.

 See’s Candies

“See’s Candies became our model for investment in other quality companies,” Buffett wrote in the preface to a book about the company. Berkshire acquired the California-based, family-owned candymaker way back in 1972. Most famous for its chocolates, the retailer brought $410 million in revenue in 2016. The company’s retail website features a “Warren’s Favorites (& More)” page, which includes peanut brittle, chocolate walnut fudge, and bridge mix. During Berkshire weekend, the See’s Candies shop inside Nebraska Furniture Mart will be selling special edition shareholder candy boxes to investors.


Berkshire Hathaway owns just 9 percent of the soft-drink company, but Buffett quipped, “I’m one-quarter Coca-Cola” in a 2015 Fortune magazine interview. He’s a super-fan of the classic carbonated beverage (particularly Cherry Coke) and said he drinks at least five colas every day, oftentimes for breakfast with Utz Potato Stix (another favorite). “I eat like a 6-year-old,” joked Buffett, who defies his 87 years. Berkshire first bought Coke stock in 1988. Today, its shares are worth $16.6 billion, and Coca-Cola has been deemed the world’s third most valuable brand (after Apple and Google). Of course, only Coke soft drinks will be served at Berkshire events throughout the weekend (though CenturyLink Center concessions, ironically, serve Pepsi products).


Berkshire partnered with 3G Capital, a Brazilian private equity firm, to buy Heinz in 2013. In 2015, it supported Heinz’s merger with Kraft Foods, making it the world’s fifth-largest food and beverage company. Its products range from cheese and dairy foods to convenience items and condiments. (Fun fact: 1 million boxes of Kraft Mac & Cheese are sold every day!) Today, as a 27 percent shareholder, Berkshire’s holdings are worth over $28 billion. In April 2016, the food conglomerate produced a Berkshire shareholders’ meeting commemorative Heinz Ketchup bottle featuring caricatures of Buffett and Munger on the label. It’s a collectible, no doubt.

This article was printed in the May/June 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Iron Woman

June 4, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

This article originally published in May/June 2015 issue of 60-Plus.

The Ironman Triathlon consists of a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile run. Surely, one might think, such a feat of athleticism would explode the joints of a human over, what, 40?

Not so, at least for the super-human. Mariana Phipps will be 71 this coming May. She’s a mom to three boys. Heck, she’s grandma to six children. Yet, she’s still a top competitor in one of the world’s most grueling test of human endurance.

Phipps was a swimmer as a girl, but couldn’t compete in high school or college in pre-Title IX days. By the time she started taking classes at Creighton University, it seemed that her serious days as an athlete were behind her.

“I was a pretty good, heavy smoker, and didn’t even think about doing any sports,” she says. “I had kids and I was busy.”

When her husband found out he had heart disease, they both quit smoking. However, she says, when you quit smoking, you need to do something else, “otherwise you blow up pretty fast.” She got back into swimming, and since many of her fellow swimmers were runners as well, she took up running and, later, bike riding.

Phipps ran her first marathon at age 51 in 1995 in Lincoln. She did her first Ironman at age 56 and qualified for the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii in her first year of qualifying. She routinely finishes in first or second place for her age group in triathlons and won the World Championship for her age group in Hawaii in 2005.

Kurt Beisch, who works as the race director for Race Omaha, a Nebraska non-profit organization in the multi-sport industry, says the World Championship in Hawaii is like the Super Bowl for triathlons.

Race Omaha puts on several annual racing events, including the Omaha Triathlon, the Omaha Women’s Triathlon, and the Omaha Kids Triathlon. The competitors, Beisch says, are definitely an eclectic bunch.

“They range from newbies, first-time multi-sport athletes, to very decorated nationally ranked athletes,” he says. The women’s triathlon field is made up of about 38 percent first-time athletes, which makes for a great amount of camaraderie.

Indeed, Phipps says, the triathlon competitors make the sport a very social one. This may seem a bit odd for an activity that, on its surface, seems to depend entirely on the individual’s stamina and endurance. But competitors feed off each other’s enthusiasm.

“We have a very good brotherhood of triathletes here in Omaha,” she says. “And I am fortunate enough to know a lot of younger ones and more mature ones.”

Beisch, who is also a decorated triathlete, estimates that about 15 percent of the participants in the field at the events are aged 50 or older, and some of them are some of the most accomplished athletes in the country.

“[They] make me look like a grade-school triathlete compared to the achievements they’ve had in the course of their lifetime,” he says.

Older competitors, he says, have an advantage in qualifying because there are fewer of them, so there’s less competition.

But more so than the competition, Beisch says, triathletes experience a great sense of accomplishment and that “coming across that finish line is an event.

“You have covered a lot of ground, you have pushed yourself in different ways and you have competed in three events,” he says.

Phipps has worked for Nebraska Furniture Mart for the last 39 years, and the company has been very flexible with her hours to allow her maximum training time. When getting ready for a triathlon, her weekly schedule involves two swims, two bike rides, and two runs. She trains 10-20 hours a week for an Ironman and may bike up to six hours a day (though shorter triathlons
don’t require as much training time).

She gives the impression of someone who really knows her stuff. In spite of the many jokes she makes about her age, there’s a quickness and vitality to her manner.

She’s also, it seems, just about unstoppable. She has a plate and several screws in each arm and a visible scar running down from her wrist. Before one event she broke her foot and couldn’t take painkillers because painkillers can cause kidney damage. She competed anyway.

This year, she plans on competing in the Boston Marathon for the sixth year in a row. In 2013, she was having a great race and was approximately four blocks from the finish line when the race was stopped and she was escorted to safety.

Later, she saw the local Boston media’s coverage of the bombing from her hotel room. “It was grotesque. Just blood everywhere. Obviously, people crying and moaning. It was just horrible.”

However, there wasn’t any hesitation about returning the next year.

“It wasn’t even a question about going back,” she says. “We weren’t about to let the enemy stop our dreams.”

So what keeps her going? Part of it, Phipps says, is that you compete against yourself.

“You can’t compare yourself to what you were 10 years ago, 20 years ago, 30 years ago,” she says. “Every time you enter a new age group you have to think it’s almost like a whole new ballgame.

“Luckily, they have age groups every five years. You think of yourself as trying to stay as fast as you can in that age group, and it’s the one thing that you look forward to getting older…because let’s face it, getting older is not fun. But, when you do go over that next hump, into the next age group, then you realize it’s a whole new set of personal records for your age. That helps a lot.”

Marianna Phipps2

Italian Contemporary in the SoMa Lofts

April 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

It was the Old Market specifically that sold Ros Mercio into moving to Omaha from Buffalo, N.Y. “It has a nice vibe and restaurants and art and culture,” she says. “It was just cool.”

Mercio settled into one of the 15 SoMa lofts at 11th and Leavenworth streets in December 2011, scaling down from a large house with three bedrooms, two and a half baths, and a den. “I’m an empty nester,” she explains, “and I didn’t want to take care of a house, and I knew I wanted to be downtown.”20130326_bs_9165

Friends in Toronto had inspired her to try the condo lifestyle for herself. “I wanted to get away from managing a lawn,” she says, “and I don’t have to drive on the weekends. I can walk everywhere.” She has about a 20-minute drive to her job as director of sales at Journal Broadcast Group in West Omaha.

Her SoMa loft is nestled back in a quiet courtyard, past the community garden with its once-a-week wine tastings. The nearby railroad can cause some noise, but she’s used to it. She shares the 1,050-square-foot condo with Tessa, a tiny, gray-and-white rescue cat from Buffalo. They’ve been together for three years, and Mercio says she still couldn’t say exactly who rescued whom.20130326_bs_9196

Something else that’s made several moves with Mercio is one particular framed photo of her family’s farm in Tuscany. She has uncles and cousins there whom she visits every year. “It’s my happy place,” she says, noting that her favorite times to go are in May or September.

Of course, the trips make it easy to supplement her contemporary Italian décor. Carnival masks from Venice decorate the entertainment center, the light fixture in the bathroom is Venetian glass, and the blue-glass plates on the dining table are also Italian. But don’t be fooled. Though the table has a contemporary Italian look, it’s actually from Nebraska Furniture Mart along with the rest of the condo’s furnishings.20130326_bs_9185

Aside from new furniture, Mercio only made a couple changes to the loft when she moved in. Local designer CKF put granite and quartz countertops in the kitchen and marble in the bathroom, as well as a stainless-steel backsplash behind the kitchen sink. Mercio laughs and says the stainless steel shows water stains like mad. She says she knew it was impractical but couldn’t get it out of her head after she saw it in the showroom. “Every time I look at it, it makes me happy,” she confesses. “I don’t have any regrets.”

The kitchen includes an island with a stovetop and Jenn-Air range hood. Mercio says it’s just one more example of the extra thought the developers put into the SoMa Lofts. After having built three homes of her own, she says she knows what it looks like when someone’s cut corners. “It’s a solid feel,” she says. “You don’t hear people walking around. It doesn’t feel like an apartment.”20130326_bs_9169

Though she does love to entertain, she admits she doesn’t use the kitchen to its fullest because “that’s the thing about living downtown…I find myself eating out more.” Mercio doesn’t particularly have a favorite, but she does like walking to J’s on Jackson by herself. “But they know me at Stokes; they know me at Ahmad’s.”

The floorplan of the condo is small but open. The high ceilings and lots of windows keep the overall feel airy, set off with muted blues and grays. Mercio compliments the developers with making great use of the space with clever cabinets everywhere. The only area that she’s contemplating renovating is an odd workspace nook in the condo’s entrance. It looks ready to house a 10-year-old desktop computer. “That was the only thing I think they missed on,” she muses. She plans to expand the empty, dimly lit square to add on to her pantry, which currently houses a modest collection of shoes instead of cereal boxes.20130326_bs_9208

She does have an extra storage room down the hall, in addition to her double, heated garage. “You don’t realize how important it is until you have one,” she says with a laugh. “They did a lot of little extra things that maybe other builders wouldn’t have done.”

Every once in awhile, she’ll see a larger condo and wonder why she didn’t opt for more space, “but then I remember the whole point was to simplify my life.”