Las Vegas Sun

August 2, 2014

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Walker, former furniture store owner, dies at 88

Ruth Walker fondly recalled one of the sales her husband, George, made in the 1960s in their mom-and-pop Las Vegas furniture store.

It was to Elvis, her daughter Jan Katz said.

"Elvis Presley came in and bought four blue velvet La-Z-Boys," Katz said. "He told my parents the reason he needed so many was so he could kick back and relax with his friends. Mom was impressed."

Ruth Walker, former co-owner and original bookkeeper for Walker Furniture, which now is Nevada's largest retail furniture outlet, died Sunday at Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center of complications from recent surgery. She was 88.

Services for Walker, a resident of Las Vegas and Henderson for 42 years, will be 3 p.m. Wednesday at King David Memorial Chapel.

The Walkers opened their store at 301 S. Highland Drive -- today, 301 S. Martin L. King Blvd. -- in 1963 and sold it to its present owners, the Alterwitz family, in 1974 with the stipulation the original name be kept.

The store also still has the same phone number it was issued when it opened, the number the Walkers had printed on pot-holders that were given away at the store's grand opening, Katz said.

"Mom and dad always prided themselves on selling sturdy, long-lasting furniture from companies such as La-Z-Boy and American of Martinsville to everyone from everyday customers to celebrities including Elvis and Sammy Davis Jr.," said Katz, a resident of Toledo, Ohio. "Mom was especially proud that their name became a household word in Las Vegas.' "

Katz said her parents had relatives in the Las Vegas gaming industry who in the early 1960s encouraged them to move here from Toledo and see if they could make a go of it in Las Vegas, which then had just a handful of furniture stores.

The couple moved to Las Vegas in 1962 and George initially went to work for Charleston Furniture to "get a feel for the Las Vegas market."

A short time later, Katz said, George's brother, E. Walker, built a shopping complex on the store's current site. The building was erected on 2.98 acres in 1963, according to Clark County assessor records.

E. Walker initially operated a private health club above George and Ruth's furniture store, which eventually grew to take up the entire site

Born Ruth Levinson on June 17, 1916, in Detroit, she was the oldest of three children of delicatessen owner Harry Levinson and his wife, the former Lilly Zaid.

After graduating from high school in Detroit, Ruth attended business college for a year. In 1936, she married George Walker, who survives her and resides in Henderson.

Before moving to Las Vegas the couple long lived in Toledo, where he operated a furniture store and she worked as a host in her father's deli, Eppes Essen.

When the Walkers sold their furniture store to Oscar Alterwitz and his brothers-in-law, Leon and Jerry Friedman, the facility had about 28,000 square feet of display space. Today, the store is about six times that size. Oscar Alterwitz's son Larry now runs the business.

During the Walkers' long retirement, she enjoyed cooking, bowling and playing mah jongg, Katz said, noting that the couple also traveled extensively.

In addition to her husband and daughter, Walker is survived by her son-in-law, Art Katz of Toledo; a niece, Helene Smith and her husband, Dee Smith, of Las Vegas; three grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.

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