125 years and growing

Published 7:05 pm Sunday, June 2, 2013

AHOSKIE – As the song “Celebrate” pierced the typically quiet air here Wednesday morning, a group of Ahoskie Belk employees, all waving blue pom-poms, filtered through a large crowd of shoppers, some arriving as early as 8 a.m., patiently waiting for the store’s 10 a.m. opening.

If it was the day after Thanksgiving (aka “Black Friday), there would be an explanation for the small army of shoppers. However, this was instead late May and in the middle of the week to boot.

So, what was the cause behind such a festive celebration? The day marked the 125th anniversary of William Henry Belk opening his first store in Monroe, NC. Now, a century and a quarter later, 301 stores in Belk’s 16-state footprint paid tribute to their founder as well as the company’s vision for the future.

“We’re here for the 125th celebration; we’re gathered here for the opportunity to thank you, our customers, our shoppers. Without you we’re not here,” said Jerome Solomon, manager of the Ahoskie Belk.

Solomon is no stranger to those that have worked and shopped at the Ahoskie Belk over the years as he launched his retail career at the local store while still in high school.

“I also need to thank our associates (Ahoskie Belk employees),” Solomon added. “They are the face of Belk; they’re the ones who interact with our customers each and every day. We also included some of our former associates here, faces that you knew and trusted over the years.

“Thank you all for coming out and showing your support for Belk on this special day, this special occasion in our company’s long history,” he concluded.

Dan Joyner, Executive Vice President of the Ahoskie Chamber of Commerce, offered remarks at Wednesday morning’s festive event.

“We’re delighted that Belk has long been a part of Ahoskie’s retail history,” said Joyner. “I’m not a young fella anymore, but Belk has been in Ahoskie as long as I can remember. It’s been an important part of the retail trade market here in the Roanoke-Chowan area. This store has been a source of quality merchandise; it’s been a key employer; and one of the most important things is that the people that work here and the store managers they’ve brought in over the years have all been an important part of this community. Congratulations to this store and all its associates on your company’s 125-year history.”

Also joining the celebration was Ahoskie Mayor G. Brien Lassiter.

“Back in my early days I worked at Belk for about six months, but learned very quickly I wasn’t a sales person,” Lassiter said, who after a career in law enforcement now works with the office of local District Attorney Valerie Asbell.

“But the main thing is that we’re glad to have Belk here in Ahoskie,” the mayor continued. “It was a cornerstone business when it was downtown and it remains a cornerstone here in the (Ahoskie Commons) shopping center. Speaking on behalf of the town of Ahoskie, we wish you a happy 125th birthday and we’re looking forward to having Belk in Ahoskie for another 125 years.”

With business longevity as the day’s theme, Solomon recognized two local sales associates at the Ahoskie Belk for their long-standing commitment to the company – Hilma Flood (36 years) and Mary B. Dickens (25 years).

Also taking part in Wednesday’s celebration was the Hertford County High School Band as well as the singing of the National Anthem by 9-year-old Mesiha Bullock, the recent winner of the Conway Centennial “You’ve Got Talent” show and a contestant on last year’s version of “America’s Got Talent.”

And for those patient shoppers, they were rewarded with gift cards and 125th anniversary cupcakes.

As Belk celebrates an achievement that fewer than 10 percent of businesses nationally ever accomplish (reaching the 125-year milestone), the company continues to experience impressive growth. For the 2012 fiscal year, results were $3.78 billion in sales, and Belk is on track to become a $6 billion company over the next five years.

During the anniversary year, customers will have several opportunities to celebrate with Belk. More than 125 exclusive products will be available for purchase in Belk stores and on belk.com from top Belk partners, including Michael Kors, Ralph Lauren, Jessica Simpson, Sam Edelman and more. Customers can also register online to participate in 125 Days of Prizes, during which time Belk will award a prize valued from $500-$6,500 every day. Customers can register on Belk’s Facebook page or on belk125prizes.com.

During 2013, Belk will sponsor initiatives celebrating the founding value of community involvement that still holds true today. Through a $2 million partnership with the Points of Light Institute, Belk will celebrate 125 Days of Service, and Belk associates will work in local schools to bring “Modern. Southern. Style.” to the schools through various makeover projects. That project kicked off in March and will serve 225 schools throughout the Belk footprint.

And the Belk name remains alive and well. Company founder William Henry Belk is the grandfather to current Chairman & CEO Tim Belk and President & COO John R. Belk.

“On this day we’re celebrating our rich heritage over the last 125 years, but we also want to celebrate our bright future,” said Tim Belk. “Today is about thanking our customers, associates and vendors for their support in the past and their partnership going forward.”

Each year, Belk gives a portion of its pretax income back to the communities it serves. In fiscal year ending Jan. 31, 2013, the company and its associates, customers and vendors donated more than $19 million to those communities.


About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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