The event took place Wednesday to commemorate the 125th anniversary of the first Belk store location founded in Monroe, N.C., on May 29, 1888.
Gary Farlow, CEO of the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce, said the milestone was not just an indication of how the company was doing but also spoke well of the Cleveland area being able to support it.
He also said he appreciated how retailers like Belk have helped the local mall. The past year has seen the opening of a movie theater, among other additions and aesthetic changes.
“It is amazing if you think about it,” Farlow said. “A lot of communities our size have a mall that’s deteriorating.”
He also shared a bit of Belk’s local history with those present. Farlow said the company now known as Belk once had a location in downtown Cleveland and that Billy Graham, the well-known evangelist who went from “selling soles” to “saving souls,” was once an employee.
Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland pointed out that some of the current employees at the local Belk store have worked there for over 20 years and said this is a sign of the company’s quality. He said employees have also helped the community through the company’s charitable initiatives.
Bradley County Mayor D. Gary Davis said the presence of good retailers is a sign of the “quality of life” and economic state of the county. He encouraged those present to continue to shop with retailers located in the area because sales tax revenues help the community.
“We want you to shop right here in Cleveland, Bradley County,” Davis said.
Cheryl Warren, manager of the Cleveland Belk store, said she was proud to be part of a company that has been around for over 100 years.
“There aren’t very many retailers that can say they’ve been around that long,” Warren said.
She added that she was also proud to be part of a store location that has been considered well-performing and thanked customers for their business.
Warren said the Cleveland location was the top performer in the company’s Knoxville region of stores, despite its size. She said it typically brings in $8 million in revenue each year. The local store also employs about 70 people, but that number can swell to close to 100 during the holiday season.
“We are the No. 1 store in the region,” Warren said. “We make do with what we have.”
She said the store has also been chosen by the corporate office to carry more designer brands, beginning with Polo Ralph Lauren this August.
Customers lined up well before the store was set to open and give away gift cards ranging from $5 to $1,000 to the first 100. After a singing of the national anthem, Warren and local officials gave short speeches before employees — one of them wearing a “Belkie the Bear” costume — rushed out to greet customers, waving pom-poms while they did. As customers — mostly those of retirement age because of the 9 a.m. event time — poured into the store, they seemed eager to explore both the merchandise and the celebratory cupcake table.
The Cleveland Belk location was one of hundreds of stores nationwide chosen to host a 125th anniversary celebration.