Belk Founder Immortalized on Charlotte Trail of History

by Harry Sheff


William Henry Belk is being immortalized with a 700-pound bronze statue in Charlotte, N.C. Belk, who founded the 300-door department store chain that bears his name in 1888, is one of 21 historical figures planned for Charlotte’s Trail of History public art project and the fifth to be erected so far.

There is a private unveiling scheduled for today that is expected to draw as many as 100 of Belk’s descendants.

“The choice to put him on the Trail of History makes perfect sense, because all people on the trail are game changers,” historian Tom Hanchett told theCharlotte Observer. “They helped transform a crossroads in the woods into one of the biggest cities in the South. The trail is putting a human face on that history.”

William Henry Belk was born in Lancaster, S.C. in 1962. After managing a dry goods store in Monroe, N.C., he opened his own shop, called The New York Racket. His brother, John Montgomery Belk joined the business, which soon expanded to several more cities around the Carolinas. They opened Belk Brothers Company in Charlotte in 1895.

Belk is privately held and run by the third generation of the Belk family, but that may change: as we reported in April, the company hired Goldman Sachs Group to explore a possible sale. Reuters estimates Belk is worth $4 billion and says people close to the deal expect interest from private equity groups and retailers like Macy’s Inc. and Nordstrom.