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Address

Office Location:

Mecklenburg County
Park and Recreation
5841 Brookshire Blvd
Charlotte, NC 28216

MAP

Hours: Mon-Fri 8 a.m - 5 p.m.

Contact

980-314-1000

William Henry Belk

  Young William Henry Belk 
 

Young William Henry Belk

William H. Belk
(1862-1952)

Starting from a small dry goods store in Monroe, North Carolina, William Henry Belk opened retail stores in Charlotte and other communities across the southeast from the end of the nineteenth-century through the mid twentieth-century. An innovator in retail methods and business partnerships, William Henry Belk led the Charlotte-based Belk stores to become one of the leading retail enterprises in the southeast during the twentieth-century.

William Henry Belk was born in Lancaster, South Carolina, and his family moved to Monroe, North Carolina. Belk’s father had been killed by Union troops during the Civil War. Belk worked at a dry goods store in Monroe and became the manager of the store in 1877.

Using a loan and some savings, Belk obtained a quantity of goods on consignment from a bankrupt store.  On May 29, 1888, he opened his own small store in Monroe called the “New York Racket.” Belk advertised his store as “The Cheapest Store on Earth” later explaining that he chose the name as it “sounded big.” Belk soon made a profit on his investment.

William Henry Belk - 1930s  

 William Henry Belk around 1930

 
At his store, Belk pioneered what was seen at the time as new business methods for the southeast. The methods included a clear retail price without negotiation and a policy that allowed customers to return undamaged goods for a refund. Also, the typical practice at the time was for farmers to take goods on credit and pay at harvest time; Belk, however, maintained a policy of cash only purchases.
 
William Belk convinced his physician brother, John Montgomery Belk, to join the business, and the company opened stores in Chester and Union, South Carolina. In 1895 the company opened a store in Charlotte, North Carolina called “Belk Brothers Company.” The store prospered by appealing to residents of the town as well as farmers from the surrounding area. The store was located on East Trade Street near the cotton platform where farmers had just gotten cash for their goods. In addition to the new business methods, Belk’s store used innovative advertising and personal customer service. For instance, free ice water was offered to customers in the summer.

Belk pioneered inventive partnerships in order to expand his business. He saw that the south presented an opportunity for the large department store and that stores could join together to gain price concessions from manufacturers. Belk built partnerships with stores across the south. Belk’s company provided management expertise and supplied these stores with items from the company warehouses in Charlotte. Many of the stores in this chain had the Belk name hyphenated with another name such as Belk-Leggett in Virginia; Parks-Belk in Tennessee; Belk-Gallant in Georgia; and Belk-Hudson in Alabama. The logo of the company was a sunburst with each point representing a partnership.

 

Address

Office Location:

Mecklenburg County
Park and Recreation
5841 Brookshire Blvd
Charlotte, NC 28216

MAP

Hours: Mon-Fri 8 a.m - 5 p.m.

Contact

980-314-1000