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Sunday, March 24, 2013
Belk is marking its 125th year in business by investing $600 million in renovations, new merchandise and technology for its more than 300 stores.
"The intent is not to catch up. The intent is to jump ahead," said Bill Roberts, chairman of the Charlotte, N.C.-based department store's northern division.
Roberts spoke to reporters and store associates last week at the company's Tanglewood Mall store, which has already benefited from some of the investments.
The Tanglewood Belk underwent a $1.8 million renovation last year. The renovations tripled the size of the shoe department, doubled the size of the handbag area and made improvements to the jewelry department.
The Belk at New River Valley Mall also has been upgraded. Last year it underwent a $2.4 million remodel and expansion that added 20,000 square feet to the existing store. The Valley View Mall store also had a small expansion in 2011.
Shoppers may have noticed more recent changes as well. The stores have rearranged merchandise to bring women's sportswear to the first floor where the men's department had been located. Men's clothing is now on the second floor.
Within just the past few weeks, Roanoke Valley Belk stores have added new lines, such as Cynthia Rowley and MADE, a men's line by Cam Newton, quarterback for the Carolina Panthers.
More changes are on the way. Belk plans to upgrade its cash registers so that sale associates can look up customers' past purchases. Associates also will be armed with iPads so they can complete transactions on the sales floor or look up answers to customer questions.
The department store is focused on its customers in other ways, too. Belk is arranging for all its sales associates to take part in public service projects. In Roanoke, 100 sales associates will be helping out at Preston Park Elementary School, Roberts said.
Belk also holds charity days to benefit local organizations. Last year charity days raised about $40,000 for 30 local charities, Roberts said.
"We evolved into large boxes in large malls, but our history is in the community," he said.
Roberts said Belk is committed to the Roanoke market.
"We always saw Roanoke as a market that could support one mall, but it has two malls," he said.
When Valley View opened in the 1980s, Belk decided that rather than relocate the Tanglewood store, it would open a second location.
"This is such a great area that we decided we wanted to remain committed to this store," Roberts said.
The Tanglewood and Valley View stores each have sales of about $15 million a year, he said.
Belk, the country's largest privately held department store chain, opened its first store in Monroe, N.C., in 1888. The store, then called The New York Racket, was a bargain store that 26-year-old William Henry Belk started with $750 in savings, a $5,000 loan and $3,000 in merchandise from a bankrupt store.
The company became Belk Brothers Co. when William's brother, John Belk, joined the business. Together they opened more stores across North Carolina. When those two men died, William's sons took over. Today, the company is run by the third generation of Belks: Thomas Belk Jr., who is chairman and CEO, and John Belk, president and COO.
Tanglewood Wendy's slated for new building
The franchisee that owns the Wendy's restaurant across from Tanglewood Mall wants to tear down the existing building and construct a larger restaurant at the same site.
Wendy's of Western Virginia is seeking a special use land permit from Roanoke County, the first in many steps towards a new building, said president Scott Quesinberry.
He expects demolition and construction to start at the beginning of next year, he said.
The existing restaurant is 3,200 square feet. It was built in 1975 and since then has had two dining room additions and a kitchen addition. But the building is worn out, and Wendy's is encouraging its franchisees to rebuild, Quesinberry said.
He does not know how much demolition and construction will cost because the project won't be put out to bid until later this year, if it gets the approval it needs from the county.
The Tanglewood Wendy's is the most popular restaurant of the 13 that the franchisee owns in Roanoke, Bedford and Lynchburg, Quesinberry said.
"The community has been good to us and we want to stay there," he said.
Frame shop moves to Southwest Plaza
A custom frame shop and gallery is in the process of moving.
Graphics Etc Framing and Gallery is leaving its space at The Forum off Starkey Road for a new storefront at Southwest Plaza on Electric Road.
Business owner Mary Ann Warren said she decided to move after three years at The Forum because she wanted to save money on rent.
Warren started Graphics Etc in 1978 on Campbell Avenue in downtown Roanoke. She closed that store in 2010 and moved to the Forum.
The past three years have been difficult as sales have slowed, Warren said. She decided not to renew her lease at The Forum and sought out a storefront with lower rent, she said.
The store at The Forum already has closed. Warren expects to reopen in her new location, next to West Pharmacy, early next month.
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