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U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx presents a longevity award to Belk manager Jeff Carter on Wednesday at the Boone store. Kellen Moore | Watauga Democrat.

Originally published: 2013-05-31 10:50:01
Last modified: 2013-05-31 10:50:46

Belk department store celebrates 125 years

Employees and store patrons gathered Wednesday to celebrate the 125th year of the Belk department store, noting the company's resilience and customer service that has spanned generations.

"In today's difficult economic environment, few companies can boast a 125-year history, and even fewer have maintained that as a privately held, family owned and managed company," said store manager Jeff Carter. "But with the faithful support of customers, civic and political leaders and employees such as yourselves, Belk is able to do just that."

Dan Meyer, president of the Boone Area Chamber of Commerce, commended the staff members for their outstanding customer service. He said one of his first jobs was wrapping holiday gifts at the Greensboro Belk and noted that the closets at his home were stuffed with Belkie bears, the iconic mascot.

The only thing not to like about Belk, he joked, was the number of flyers that arrived weekly at his home advertising sales.

"I can't afford to save any more," he said with a laugh.

What later became the Belk chain opened in Monroe in 1888 as the New York Racket, an endeavor of 26-year-old William Henry Belk. Customers paid cash only, and there was no price haggling, but customers could return or exchange merchandise if they were dissatisfied, Carter said.

Four years later, Belk convinced his brother, Dr. John Belk, to leave his medical practice and join him in the retail business.

Today, Belk has more than 300 stores and 20,000 employees across 16 southern states, Carter said. The department store tallies more than $3.5 billion in sales each year.

The Boone location, originally named the Belk-White store, opened in April 1935 at 631 W. King St., the current site of the Appalachian Antique Mall.

In a full-page advertisement in the Watauga Democrat announcing the opening, proprietor Cyrus White said he had spent "the whole of last week in New York buying large quantities of merchandise expressly for the Boone store."

"Within the next few days we promise the people of this section as complete and modern an establishment as can be found anywhere," the ad claimed.

Rep. Virginia Foxx, who also spoke at the event, said the department stores represented hard work, perseverance and the American dream.

"I want to congratulate Belk's team on this milestone," Foxx said. "Not everyone looks this good at 125."

Foxx also presented longevity awards to associate Tammy Chappell Franklin for 28 years of service and to Carter, the store manager, for 33 years employment at Belk.