A large crowd of shoppers gathered Friday at Belk’s Mount Airy store in Mayberry Mall for the discounts and gift card giveaways advertised in honor of the store’s grand re-opening.
From the staff and store manager all the way up the corporate ladder, Belk personnel stayed squarely on message that Belk is in Mount Airy for the long haul.
“Belk is here to stay,” said Leon Baskerville, Mount Airy Belk store manager. The local store is part of a $40 million investment by the company to update and refresh a dozen of its stores in 2017-2018.
The grand re-opening, or “refresh,” as it was also called, provided capital improvements to the property, including new ceramic tile and carpet, new paint, refurbished and re-designed fitting rooms and restrooms, and new energy-saving, environmentally-friendly lighting. Store aisles have also been widened from six feet to eight feet for ease of navigation. Following the refresh, the store is hiring additional staff, in both seasonal and permanent positions.
The store remained open throughout the renovations, according to Baskerville. He has been with the company for seven-and-a-half years and has done a number of grand openings, but this was his first refresh. “This, by far, is the most demanding,” he said.
When addressing how the uncertainty surrounding the future of Mayberry Mall affected Belk’s commitment to the Mount Airy store, Baskerville replied, “Belk is committed to all of its stores.” He added the company is showing its commitment by investing heavily in the store. “When the project ran over-budget, we got the money we needed.”
Belk regional vice president Charlotte Obringer puts it more bluntly. “There are lots of stores in my area where the mall is gone and we’re still there.” She added that Belk hopes the mall stays open. It’s better for Belk if it does. “We’re making this investment in hopes others follow our lead.”
Belk opened its first store in 1888 in a small town, according to Paul Belk, who spoke at Friday’s grand re-opening, calling the re-opening more of a renewal. “This is our store for this community.”
Mount Airy has a 92-year history with the company, going back to the opening of Park-Belk and Co. in 1925, according to Baskerville. The Mayberry Mall store opened almost 50 years ago, in 1970, and the refresh is part of Belk’s journey to re-imagine the department store. Baskerville said the investment gives employees a deep sense of ownership for their store and that associate engagement heightens the customer experience.
As part of Belk’s commitment to the local community, the store made a $1,000 donation to Blue Ridge Carenet Counseling for mental health counseling. Barbara Saulpaugh, regional director of the non-profit, accepted the check, saying the shame and stigma surrounding mental health means it is often ignored. “This has made my day, my week and maybe my year.”
Saulpaugh said all of the money would stay in Mount Airy to assist people who are uninsured or who cannot afford high deductibles and co-pays for mental health counseling.
Mayor David Rowe and city commissioners Steve Yokeley, Shirley Brinkley, Jon Cawley and Jim Armbrister represented the city of Mount Airy, with Larry Johnson representing Surry County commissioners, Kim Morrison attending for Mount Airy City Schools along with Randy Collins, president and CEO of Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce.
Before assisting Baskerville in cutting the ribbon, Mayor David Rowe said he was “glad Belk has continued to invest in our community. It could have been a different story.”
Mayor Rowe added that his first experience with Belk had not been so good. His brother got to shop on the main floor but he had to go down to the basement for “big boy clothes.”
“Big boy clothes” are no longer relegated to the basement. According to Obringer, the newly refreshed Belk is offering an expanded selection of Big and Tall right on the main floor. The store’s Curvy department has also been expanded to meet consumer demand.
Addressing the wider challenge presented to retail stores by online shopping, Obringer stated that Belk has not neglected that aspect of their business. They have updated their website for a better user experience.
“But there are some things you can’t get online,” she added. “A smile. A warm welcome. And an honest opinion.”
“Your neighbors take care of you at Belk,” she said with a big in-store smile.
Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.