Timeline: History of the Belk department store from 1888 to the present

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

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

Observer file photo


Belk after bankruptcy

Belk has grown from a bargain store in Monroe to nearly 300 stores in the Southeast with over 17,000 employees over the past 134 years.

The iconic brand is as synonymous with Charlotte, where it is headquartered, as Macy’s is with New York City.

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

Celebrities and fashion icons have graced 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.

Movie star Elizabeth Taylor appeared on Belk’s show at Charlotte’s Eastland Mall in April 1996 to promote her perfume Black Diamonds. Taylor, shown speaking to Alexandria Owsian of Charlotte. Observer file photo

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


William Henry Belk, 26, opened a small bargain store called The New York Racket in Monroe on May 29. The store was approximately 1,500 square feet. All goods have been marked; haggling was not allowed.


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


The Belk Brothers Company is opening a second store in Chester, SC, followed by a third store in Union, SC next year.


The company’s fourth store opens in Charlotte and becomes its base of operations.


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


William Henry Belk dies at the age of 89. John Belk had 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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Belk department store (center) and Ivey department store (far right) in uptown Charlotte in 1962. Observer file photo


The sons of William Henry Belk transformed Belk from downtown discount stores into modern fashion destinations in malls and malls throughout the South.

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


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


In October 2010, Belk launched an updated corporate identity mission of “satisfying the modern southern lifestyle like no other” with a new company logo, color palette and tagline – Modern. South. Style.


Sycamore Partners acquired Belk for approximately $3 billion.

The Belk in Charlotte’s Northlake Mall. Belk has been an integral part of the Charlotte area for well over a century. 2021 Observer file photo


Surviving the COVID Pandemic:

March: Retail stores like Belk have closed across the country because of the coronavirus. His workers were furloughed.

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

To be allowed to: Belk is beginning a phase of reopening with curbside pickup and reduced hours. Some furloughed employees are returning.

June: Belk is laying off an undisclosed number of employees at company offices and stores.

November: Beginning of restructuring discussions with Belk’s lenders.

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


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

February: Belk is emerging from bankruptcy 24 hours after it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in Houston on Feb. 23, giving the company a fresh injection of capital and reducing its debt burden by about $450 million.

July: Belk is promoting Chief Merchandising Officer Nir Patel to CEO, replacing Lisa Harper, who has been CEO since July 2016. Harper is now executive chair of Belk’s board of directors.

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Belk CEO Nir Patel Belk

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


Belk is expanding its Culture Shop, launched in February 2021, to add more diverse and inclusive brands with products like home, clothing, beauty and accessories to make customers “feel represented.”

This story was originally published February 25, 2022 6:00 a.m.

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Catherine Muccigrosso is a retail reporter for The Charlotte Observer. An award-winning journalist, she has worked for multiple newspapers and McClatchy for more than a decade.

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