Houston and two other Texas cities are among the nation’s most promising places to invest in retail real estate, according to a new Ten-X Commercial report.
Has someone treated you poorly until they discovered you were wealthy and/or successful?
21 years ago, I bought a $225 necktie at Neiman Marcus in San Francisco. That evening, my lady friend said wrong color. I never wore the tie and it was still wrapped in the NM gauzy paper.
We returned it next day at the Neiman Marcus in the Stanford Shopping Center. I was dressed like a bum — normal for my day off.
The sales lady curtly told us they did not carry that brand of necktie. I politely asked to see the Department Manager. Even more sharply, the manager told me Neiman Marcus had never carried that line of ties.
Her facial grimace said it all…
This old con man is shifting from 3-Card Monte to men’s neckties.
I asked them to pull up my Neiman Marcus charge account. The first lady suppressed a snicker. Begrudgingly they checked the computer. They were shocked to find my lengthy account history. The necktie was right at the top. $225 plus tax.
I expected Sorry for the misunderstanding or Let me show you some great new ties.
But that is not what happened. Instead, the manager looked up at the ceiling and barked: Credit his account. Then, she spun on her heel and walked away without another word.
Well, it is their store and their rules.
I took the pointed hint: If you visit our store wearing an old T-shirt and rugby shorts, we don’t want your business. No matter how much money you have.
Since that day, I have told that story 100+ times. Two decades later, I now chuckle when visualizing their pinched little faces. Granted, their makeup was perfect.
An Irish preacher once said…
A man who will generously forgive all injuries will never forget an insult.
Stop here unless you enjoy history and gossip. This is a long stroll down Memory Lane…
Before those young ladies were born, Stanley Marcus was a legend and I was a customer.
In 1905, Stanley was born in Dallas. His father had been working as a salesman in Atlanta, but not making enough money to support a family.
In 1906, the extended Marcus family sold their investments and decided to become entrepreneurs. They considered two options:
- starting a high-end retailer in Texas
- buying the tiny Coca-Cola Company of Atlanta
Stanley Marcus always joked: Our firm was founded on bad business judgment.
Neiman-Marcus opened its doors in 1907. From the 1930s to the 1970s, Mr. Marcus personally waited on Texas oil men. They would visit Neiman Marcus in oil-spotted coveralls and work boots. In the late 1960s, some bought $60,000 black sable coats for their wives. I saw it.
There are many billionaires and multi-millionaires in Texas who still dress like workmen. Mr. Marcus graciously served everyone. A hedge fund now owns Neiman Marcus. Maybe they have a different philosophy…
There are subtle cultural differences between California and Texas consumers. Luxury retailers in Texas are more humorous and brash. Think golf clubs made of 24 karat gold and Big Hair.
But condescension is a no-no. Aloof “exclusivity” might work in Manhattan, Palo Alto, or Beverly Hills. But snobbery is less welcome in Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, and El Paso. (Austin residents are a special case. They live in their own little world.)
Plus, it’s difficult to remain aloof when other Texans nearby have billions more than you. Friendly is more important than ritzy.
The running joke is this: Texas is the only state where you can dial a wrong number, and still have an extended conversation.
The ladies in the Stanford Shopping Center wouldn’t get it.
Back in the day, Mr. Marcus appeared frequently in the Dallas Morning News and Houston Chronicle. He was routinely in the Society pages, Women’s Section, or Maxine Mesenger’s gossip column. He was a fun guy. A very fun guy. His philosophy was simple: Only The Best.
Mr. Marcus remembered names and faces. He asked about your relatives. He might be photographed with royalty on Monday, Girl Scouts Wednesday, dusty cowboys on Friday.
Back when people still dressed for church, Easter Sunday was D-Day at Neiman Marcus. Many society ladies wore their new hats, dresses, and gloves to St. Michael’s. Locals joked it was St. Minks. Confused kids in Sunday School couldn’t find that name in the Bible.
One oil man told Mr. Marcus his wife had seen something in the window display she liked. But he was watching football, and not paying attention to what she said.
Hard to imagine!
Mr. Marcus solved the problem by reconstructing the entire window display in the man’s home, complete with mannequins and lighting.
Billionaire H.L. Hunt dropped out of school in the 5th grade and became the richest man in the world. He is pictured third from the right, wearing a white shirt and hat. He had rigs all over the world. One of his oilfields in East Texas was 43 miles long by 9 miles wide.
In later years, Mr. Hunt carried his lunch around Neiman Marcus in a brown paper sack. He seemed to believe carrot cake was one of the five major food groups.
He and John D. Rockefeller were both Baptists…and cheap. Upon his death, Mr. Hunt’s net worth was 4x all the Rockefellers combined.
H.L. would often visit oil rigs with his lawyer. They would stop for lunch wherever a farmer was selling watermelons from the back of his pickup. Mr. Hunt would always negotiate the price. 75 cents was too damn much for a watermelon.
Mr. Hunt laughingly referred to himself as a crank. He exercised by moving around his offices on his hands and knees. He called it “creeping.”
His employees – at least the smart ones – paid no attention.
Mr. Hunt attended the Texas State Fair as a vendor. There, he would pass out free copies of his anti-Communist book. He would man the 6′ x 8′ stall by himself.
Tens of thousands would pass by the booth. Mr. Hunt would chat with Fair visitors until the books were gone — about 7 hours. It’s difficult to imagine Bill Gates or Warren Buffett doing that today.
Mr. Hunt’s opinion of the carrot cake at the State Fair is not known. He probably took a sack lunch to save money.
H.L. Hunt enjoyed crashing private parties and conventions. In whatever hotel he might be staying, he would bluff his way into industry meetings which had nothing to do with the oil business.
He once crashed a Russian-only reception for Nikita Khrushchev. Mr. Hunt said, “I’m here to see the Soviet premier with my own eyes.”
The KGB promptly threw him out.
Mr. Hunt’s first son was Hassie. He had a nose for oil, and expanded the family fortune enormously. Unfortunately, he had an undiagnosed psychological condition which caused him to act erratically.
One day, he was walking past a car dealership. He picked up a large rock and heaved it through the plate glass window. The irate car dealer came rushing out to the sidewalk. Hassie apologized. Then, he pulled out cash and paid for the new car in the window. He also paid for the window.
Mr. Hunt’s second son was Nelson Bunker Hunt. He was too cheap to shop at Neiman Marcus, so his wife bought his suits at a discounter two blocks away.
Bunker left college and volunteered for military duty just after Pearl Harbor. He served aboard the U.S.S. Washington. His battleship saw intense action at the Battle of Guadalcanal, sinking the battleship Kirishima, destroyer Ayanami, and other ships.
Bunker later said: That’s the only time I’ve been skinny. I didn’t like Navy food, and didn’t have enough pocket money to buy candy.
Bunker was good-natured about receiving the annual Bonehead Award in Dallas. In 1980, most people assumed the Hunts had attempted to corner the silver market for financial profit and failed. But their real goal was to avoid paper assets like the U.S. dollar.
The Hunts believed U.S. government debt would soon skyrocket and the dollar would fall. Both happened. But these events occurred too late for the Hunts to profit.
Bunker inherited his Dad’s thriftiness and usually flew Economy Class. When Bunky needed to get somewhere fast, he would charter an entire jumbo jet. But he still preferred Economy.
Bunker was listed in the phone directory and answered the phone himself. To him, people with unlisted phone numbers were a bit snobby.
William Herbert Hunt is son #3. As a teenager, he started as a roughneck on oil rigs. He has made billions and lost billions. He recently doubled his net worth from $1.5 billion to $3.1 billion in the Bakken. He is now quietly retired in Dallas.
Lamar Hunt was son #4. In college, his football teammates nicknamed him Po’ Boy. Lamar was principal founder of the American Football League (AFL), Major League Soccer (MLS), and World Championship Tennis.
Lamar was the driving force behind the first Super Bowl. He devised the name because his kids were playing with a Super Ball when Pete Rozelle called.
A reporter once asked H.L. if he was concerned about Lamar losing $1 million per year as owner of the Kansas City Chiefs.
Mr. Hunt replied: Sure, I’m worried. If this keeps up, he’ll be dead broke in 150 years.
Here is the Great Chain of Being for Texas eccentrics:
Multi-billionaires – a real character
Billionaires – couple of buttons missing
Millionaires – one sandwich shy of a picnic
Regular folks – nutty as a fruitcake
H.L.’s daughter is billionairess Caroline Rose Hunt. She got her first job at Neiman Marcus as a sales clerk. Mr. Hunt told his rich daughter always do more work than expected.
While working at Neiman Marcus, she met and married a military pilot named Sands. She followed him to various military bases and had 5 kids. She later bought the Hotel Bel-Air, The Carlyle, The Hana-Maui, and 16 other luxury hotels.
In her spare time, she still authors cookbooks, runs a wellness business, and does church volunteer work. She was the wealthiest woman in Texas for years — until some Waltons moved in from Arkansas. Carpetbaggers.
This cartoon appeared in the New Yorker.
People have always had a fascination with Texas oil men. Some are interested in the crazy lifestyle. Some by the kismet of being dirt-poor one moment, and fabulously wealthy the next. And some folks still believe Big Oil is somehow nefarious.
One thing is certain: the oil patch is never boring. Stanley Marcus fit in perfectly.
Spindletop occurred in 1901. Within 3 months, those 20 wells east of Houston were producing more oil than the rest of the world combined. The gushers of oil soared higher than 10-story buildings, throwing steel drilling pipe through the air like matchsticks. Some drilling rigs were destroyed when subterranean pressures were unleashed on the surface.
Most of the profits went North — to the Rockefellers, Mellons, and Pews. They owned most of the leases and infrastructure.
Many wildcatters had been soldiers in the Civil War. Sending Texas oil money to Yankees was about as popular as sending a porcupine to a nudist colony. But a deal is a deal. When the next boom hit in the 1930s, most of the profits stayed in Texas.
Howard Hughes, Sr. developed a new drill bit in 1907 and made a fortune.
When the senior Howard Hughes died, Sonny took over Hughes Tool Company at age 18. He was instantly wealthy, and later grew the fortune enormously.
Already one of the richest men in the world, Howard Hughes used a false name to get a position with American Airlines. His job was copilot and baggage handler.
He wanted to learn the airline business “from the ground up” so he could start TWA. Within two months, he was recognized by a passenger. American immediately fired him.
Gittings Portraits eventually installed studios inside Neiman Marcus stores. Many famous portraits were taken there.
After Roger Staubach completed his military service, he played quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys. He is now worth $600 million, mainly accumulated through Texas real estate.
One oilman said: Sophia could make a preacher kick a hole in a stained glass window.
The family photos of Gloria Vanderbilt were so enchanting Mr. Marcus asked if he could use them in the Christmas Wishbook.
In this candid shot, that’s CNN reporter Anderson Cooper on the floor.
If I looked like Anderson Cooper, I bet they would sell me a necktie…
Clint Murchison was also extremely wealthy. He attended Duke and MIT, and later owned the Dallas Cowboys. He used Braniff Airlines to transport his players. He greatly enjoyed the company of Braniff stewardesses, and purchased many gifts at Neiman Marcus.
Mr. Murchison was a very generous man who was let down by some friends later in life. But he wisely let Tom Landry run the Cowboys, resulting in 20 consecutive winning seasons.
Mr. Marcus had a much more conservative lifestyle than Mr. Murchison. Their personal backgrounds, religious beliefs, and political views were very different. But they always remained friendly. Business is business.
The Murchisons and their fun-loving friends would sometimes “borrow” a 747 from Braniff. They used Fat Albert, the aircraft scheduled Dallas-Honolulu three times a week. But it’s difficult to be secretive when you’re flying around in a giant pumpkin. The Murchisons exercised good judgment and soon returned to private jets.
Eventually, Mr. Murchison would visit the Braniff Academy for flight attendants before the ladies received their wings. More gifts from Neiman Marcus…
The helmet wasn’t for oxygen. Maybe it was designed to keep oil men from getting fresh…
Governor James “Big Jim” Hogg named his only daughter Ima. Ima Hogg.
Mr. Marcus and Miss Hogg were lifelong friends. They were joint patrons of Symphony, Opera, and the arts. Snoot-free arts. They funded museums in Texas, New Mexico, and Virginia.
Someone in the White House once asked them to arrange a political event with a Western theme. With a twinkle, Mr. Marcus replied: Sir, running those poor steers back and forth in the heat is ridiculous. We ought to put the steers in the convention hall, and run the politicians back and forth.
James M. West was a neighbor of Miss Hogg in Houston. He built an oil, cattle, and lumber empire. He was nicknamed Silver Dollar Jim because he would give a silver dollar to each person he met on the street.
If he entered a crowded bar, he would throw fistfuls of silver dollars into the corner. While patrons scrambled for the silver, he would grab a bar stool and order a beer.
Mr. West kept 26 Cadillacs in the garage behind his home. Each was outfitted with 3 police radios, 2 pistols, and 1 Thompson sub-machine gun. He viewed himself as a “private crime fighter.” When a police call came over the radio, he would respond — often arriving ahead of the police.
The Houston Police Department liked Mr. West because he gave large amounts of money to support the Police Benevolent Association, as well as cops injured on the job.
Mr. West helped with the arrest of several criminals. His personal bravery was well-known. It all came to a halt after a burglary call one night.
The burglar was shot. But a police lieutenant was nicked by a ricochet from Mr. West’s pistol. Newspaper editorials questioned why rich amateurs were involved in police work. That was the end of Mr. West’s crime fighting.
When Mr. West died, they found a hidden underground vault beneath his mansion in River Oaks. He had large mounds of silver coins and Neiman Marcus jewelry. He also had $2 bills stacked to the ceiling. No one knows why. It took 7 armored cars to haul it all away.
After he died, his hunting ranch became the site of NASA.
When dignitaries broke ground for the Astrodome, they used Colt pistols instead of shovels. If you plan on a career in burglary, Houston may not be the best locale.
President Bush (41) and President Bush (43) were both fighter pilots and both oil men.
Wives Barbara and Laura Bush enjoy shopping at Neiman Marcus – especially Laura. Alas, the younger President Bush is cheap. As Southerners say: tight as a wet boot.
When Laura bought a $1,000 antique pillow, President Bush jokingly wrote to Anne Johnson of Neiman Marcus:
Thanks for all your advice and help in decorating. Yours in poverty, George
Jeff Bezos of Amazon is worth $140 billion — more than Warren Buffett and Bill Gates. Mr. Bezos is the richest man in the world.
Jeff attended public school in Houston. He spent summers working cattle at his family’s ranch near Cotulla. He was also a fry cook at McDonald’s.
This is Jeff Bezos with his grandfather circa 1970. Jeff’s net worth back then: two dogs. Pay no attention to pessimists who deride our country. Anyone can get rich in America.
The Lazy G is down the road from King Ranch. At 825,000 acres, King Ranch is bigger than Rhode Island. Perhaps King Ranch should get its own U.S. Senators…
The size of Texas surprises many foreigners, including folks from Europe and New Jersey. It is further across Texas (Spindletop to El Paso) than it is from El Paso to Los Angeles. This is the local joke:
Texan: Not to brag…but I can drive my pickup all day and never leave my own ranch.
Cajun: I used to own a truck like dat.
A cowboy’s life is remarkably unchanged since 1870. Back then, a steer was worth $10 in South Texas, $20 in Abilene, and $30 in Chicago. Today a steer can bring $1,000.
When they met, Mr. Bezos and Mr. Marcus “hit it off” right away. In my opinion, the biographers of Mr. Bezos misunderstood that connection. It had little to do with retailing and everything to do with Houston.
Of the 100 biggest cities in world, Houston is #1 in lack of zoning and regulation. Government stays out of the way. If you want to build something gigantic, knock yourself out. Your bankers will discern whether you are Genius … or dumb as a bag of hammers.
These are gasoline prices. There are many oil wells and refineries in California. But California prices are 50% higher than Texas — mainly due to regulation.
Broadly speaking, Texans mistrust government and embrace free enterprise. It’s been that way for 200 years. Texans believe bureaucrats raise the cost of everything – not just gasoline. With low taxes and few government roadblocks, the collective mindset is this:
Grow and expand! Everything should be bigger. Move it!
100 X … 10,000 X … 1 million X!
In high school, Mr. Bezos wrote: I want to build space hotels, amusement parks, and colonies for 3 million people who would live in orbit.
His plans for Amazon reflect the same level of humility.
A New Yorker asks: What’s your return on equity?
A Houstonian says: Who cares? This thing is going to be HUGE!
Texas kids constantly hear: Think Big, Boy!
Through a Seattle law firm, Mr. Bezos “secretly” started buying enormous ranches in West Texas for his new spaceport. Helpful hint to all you clever lawyers…
Any cattleman who owns 250,000 acres is smart enough to hire private detectives. They will find out who you are, and what you want. Everyone in West Texas hopes Mr. Bezos launches the first trip to Mars from Corn Ranch.
Near Mr. Bezos’ spaceport are the mineral springs purchased by H.L. Hunt in San Jeronimo so many years ago. Once when he was returning to Dallas, Mr. Hunt stopped to visit at the county courthouse. The judge there complained of pain in his feet.
Mr. Hunt got down on his knees, pulled off the judge’s shoes and socks, and started massaging his feet with mineral water. The judge later told his bailiff that although he felt a lot better, it wasn’t right for the richest man in the world to massage someone’s feet.
Some Hunts are Baptist, some Presbyterian, and a couple are atheists. H.L. and Bunker were big supporters of Campus Crusade for Christ.
H.L. Hunt performed some sketchy deeds as a young man. He did not take religion seriously until later in life. As an older man, he would smile and say: I’ve made a great deal. I’ve traded the Here for the Hereafter.
Mr. Hunt’s funeral was conducted by preacher W.A. Criswell at First Baptist.
Southern Baptist funerals have a slightly different flavor compared to other religions. Baptists believe a funeral is not really for the departed. That soul is long gone. Instead, a funeral should counsel and guide the mourners — to save their souls.
Due to events in the Middle East, the price of Arabian crude oil rose over 1,200% in the 1970s. While many Americans suffered, Texas was booming. Neiman Marcus was booming. The Hunts were booming. And H.L. had been at the center of everything.
1700 people attended the funeral, including many billionaires, politicians, movie stars, and athletes. The pastor effusively praised Mr. Hunt and his many good works. But then he turned on a dime.
Brother Criswell directed some blunt comments toward billionaires in the congregation who were Living Large and almost out of control. You could hear a pin drop.
It was a mesmerizing sermon and invitation. W.A. Criswell was Old School — a fiery Revival preacher from Oklahoma. The congregation nodded in silent agreement.
Afterward, a few people made real changes. But most of the wealthy continued as before. The parties in Las Vegas and Mexico became more outrageous. The private jets became private jumbo jets. As the price of oil skyrocketed, so did profits at Neiman Marcus.
Imagine you are Prime Minister of an unaligned nation or a rebel leader fighting a dictator. Or maybe you are a foreign spymaster who wants to cut a deal before it’s too late.
You are secretly flown into the country on a U.S. military jet to avoid news reporters and passport control. You are only here for 36 hours, trying to forge an agreement with the U.S. government.
After the endless briefings with American diplomats and spooks, where do you go next? Not to the Jefferson Memorial or the Smithsonian. You go to Neiman Marcus!
Back in the day, Mr. Marcus would personally escort VIP/DV guests around the store after hours. He was a patriot and loved his country. These visits were also good for business. Visitors ranged from Madame Nhu to the Shah of Iran to assorted Crown Princes.
A few would denounce U.S. “cultural imperialism” to their countrymen, and then shop for hours at Neiman Marcus. Go figure.
On one occasion, members of a royal family (and true friends of the U.S.) shopped Neiman Marcus after hours. As they were leaving, they said they wanted Chinese food. Uh-oh. All restaurants had long since closed.
The Diplomatic Security Service of the U.S. State Department contacted the Protocol Officer at the police department. (Most big departments have these protocol liaisons.)
He swung into action and awoke a friendly restaurateur. A squad car was dispatched. The Royals quickly received their breakfast — a huge smorgasbord of Chinese food.
Helpful Hint: This was done to avoid a diplomatic incident. It is never a good idea to dial 911 and ask for #7 with fried rice.
Mr. Stanley, as his employees called him, would have been disappointed by my experience in California. No Customers = No Fun.
Mr. Marcus was dedicated to having fun.
In his first Christmas catalog, he offered a live Black Angus steer paired with a sterling silver barbeque grill. Mr. Marcus promised: We will gift wrap the steer as best we can.
Neiman Marcus also sold a violin case which could be used to carry liquor. Some roughnecks developed a sudden interest in Mozart.
Christmas 1963, Neiman Marcus sold the first Ampex video recorder for home use. Elvis bought two at $30,000 each. Those in the awl & gas bidness bought more.
Later, Mr. Marcus offered his-and-her camels. For the couple who has everything.
One Fort Worth socialite saw the camels arrive at the airport on the local 6 PM news. She asked her daughter: What darn fool would give camels as a Christmas present?
You guessed it. The camels were on her front lawn Christmas morning.
In 1969, Neiman Marcus offered this 100-pound computer. It could only be used for kitchen recipes and required a 2-week training course. Price: $10,600
Tagline: If only she can cook as well as Honeywell computes.
For budget shoppers awaiting their first gusher, Mr. Marcus offered an engraved hammer for $9 or five tubes of brandy toothpaste for $10. Both gifts for $19.
Fortunately, there were no arrests for HWI – Hammering While Intoxicated.
Regrettably, some gifts were not best sellers.
10,000 gallons of Aramis ($5 million) went unclaimed.
The stockyards between Lubbock and Amarillo should have loaded up.
One year, Mr. Marcus offered his-and-her mummy cases for $8,000. But when the cases arrived from the Middle East, the curator found an actual mummy inside the female sarcophagus. The mummy was quickly shipped back to Egypt in a dignified manner.
Here is my advice to Neiman Marcus…
In the future, wait a few weeks. Most Lunch Ladies in Texas are well-preserved. Consider it professional courtesy.
Mr. Marcus also offered plug-in versions of both you or your spouse. Each had a customized physique and face to match the real world — you.
20 different languages were available. There was a remote control to ensure your spouse laughs at all your jokes, for as long as you like. There was also a portable model for those who might need a stand-in at work. No more boring meetings!
In my opinion, Create Your Own Twin was pure genius. Are you skeptical about the need for an Identical Twin?
Try attending a bridal shower during football playoffs.
This is the Neiman Marcus Mouse Ranch. It made you Ranch Foreman for a herd of rodents.
Neiman Marcus even included a tiny branding iron — customized to you — to thwart mouse rustlers. The branding iron used ink instead of heat. Mr. Marcus’ own livestock brand was N-M.
Snooty? Aloof? Exclusive? Not so much.
But the Rodent Rodeo was lots of fun! Even in Palo Alto.
More recently, Neiman Marcus offered Cupcake Cars for only $25,000. Frosting included.
My favorite item was in 1970:
Total price $588,247. All animals included.
Full staff including a French chef, masseuse, and veterinarian from Texas A&M.
Stanley Marcus died in 2002 at age 96.