Timeline: History of Belk department stores from 1888 to today

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Belk on East Trade Street in downtown Charlotte, circa 1940.


Observer file photo

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Belk after bankruptcy


Belk has grown from one discount store in Monroe to nearly 300 stores in the Southeast with more than 17,000 employees over the past 134 years.

The iconic brand is synonymous with Charlotte, where it is headquartered, just like Macy’s is in New York.

Belk survived the Great Depression, two World Wars, the Great Recession, the COVID-19 pandemic and bankruptcy. Thousands of locals worked there, bought prom and wedding dresses and jewelry for special occasions. Several people shared their memories with the Observer last year.

Celebrities and fashion icons have appeared in the SouthPark Mall flagship store over the decades, from Oscar de la Renta and Tommy Hilfiger to Elizabeth Taylor, Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York and Cam Newton.

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Film star Elizabeth Taylor appeared at Belk to promote her Black Diamonds fragrance in April 1996 at the Eastland Mall in Charlotte. Taylor, pictured, chats with Charlotte’s Alexandria Owsian. Observer file photo

Here is a brief timeline highlighting some of Belk’s history with information from the archives of Belk.com and Charlotte Observer:

1888

William Henry Belk, 26, opened a small, low-cost store called The New York Racket in Monroe on May 29. The store was approximately 1,500 square feet. All goods were marked; no haggling was allowed.

1891

John Belk became a partner and renamed the store Belk Brothers Company, and expanded.

1893

Belk Brothers Company opens a second store in Chester, SC, followed by a third store in Union, SC, the following year.

1895

The company’s fourth store opens in Charlotte, becoming its base of operations.

1923

The Belk brothers and their partners operated 20 stores that generated $10 million in annual sales.

1952

William Henry Belk dies aged 89. John Belk died in 1928. William’s sons, John M. Belk and Thomas M. “Tom” Belk, ran the store until their deaths in 2007 and 1997, respectively.

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The Belk department store (center) and the Ivey department store (far right) in downtown Charlotte in 1962. Observer file photo

1955

The sons of William Henry Belk transformed Belk from downtown thrift stores into modern fashion destinations in Southern strip malls and malls.

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Crowds form outside the Belk-Tyler department store in Greenville for the start of Dollar Day sales in August 1960. UNC-Chapel Hill North Carolina Collection

1998

A third generation of the Belk family merges all 112 stores into one company – Belk Inc.

2010

In October 2010, Belk launched an updated corporate identity mission, “to cater to the modern Southern lifestyle like no one else” with a new corporate logo, color scheme and tagline – Modern. From South. Style.

2015

Sycamore Partners acquired Belk for approximately $3 billion.

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The Belk at Charlotte’s Northlake Mall. Belk has been a staple in the Charlotte area for over a century. 2021 Observer File Photo

2020

Coping with the COVID pandemic:

March: Retail stores like Belk have closed across the country due to the coronavirus. Its workers have been laid off.

April: Sycamore and Belk hire Alvarez and Marsal as restructuring advisors.

May: Belk is entering a phase close to reopening with curbside pickup, reduced hours. Some furloughed employees are returning.

June: Belk is laying off an undisclosed number of head office and store employees.

November: Restructuring discussions begin with Belk’s lenders.

December: Sycamore and Belk hire Kirkland & Ellis as restructuring advisor and Lazard as investment banker.

2021

January: Belk announces that it will file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in February. Sycamore retains majority control, with the lenders getting part of the company.

February: Belk emerges from bankruptcy 24 hours after filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in Houston on Feb. 23, giving the company another injection of capital and reducing its debt load by about $450 million.

July: Belk promoted chief marketing officer Nir Patel to CEO, replacing Lisa Harper, who had been CEO since July 2016. Harper is now executive chairman of Belk’s board.

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Nir Patel, CEO of Belk Belk

Belk plans to sublet its Charlotte headquarters on West Tyvola Road, shifting its 1,200 company employees to full-time or part-time remote work.

2022

February: Belk is expanding its Culture store, which launched in February 2021, to add more diverse and inclusive brands with products such as home, apparel, beauty and accessories to make customers “feel represented.”

March: The Jonesville, SC distribution center at 3805 Furman L. Fendley Highway is closing, according to a worker accommodation and retraining notification letter sent Feb. 28 to the Department of Employment and Manpower. work from South Carolina. The layoffs of 310 workers are expected to run from April 30 to May 28, Tim May, general vice president of supply chain operations, said in a WARN report filed March 9.

May: The company announces the departure of Nir Patel and appoints Don Hendricks as interim CEO.

This story was originally published February 25, 2022 06:00.

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Catherine Muccigrosso is a retail journalist for The Charlotte Observer. An award-winning journalist, she has worked for several newspapers and McClatchy for over a decade.