Hall of  

William Henry Belk (June 2, 1862 - Feb. 21, 1952)
Inducted 1988
   Born on June 2, 1862, in Lancaster, SC, William Henry Belk was the son of a farmer, who was killed in 1865 by Union troops. His grandfather had owned a small gold mine.

 Junior Achievement
   The family moved Monroe, NC, where William Henry went to schools, before starting work in 1876 at a local dry goods store. By 1877, he had become the store manager, when he decided to open his own store.
   A small store -- only 22 by 70 feet -- opened on May 29, 1888, in Monroe, NC. Called the New York Racket, the department store was promoted as "The Cheapest Store on Earth." Twenty-six year old William Henry Belk had started the store with some savings, a loan and about $3,000 worth of goods taken on consignment from a bankrupt store.
   In seven months, Belk had paid off his debts and netted a $3,300 profit. It was the beginning of the nation's largest privately owned department store operations.
   The store was a cash-and-carry enterprise, featuring inexpensive goods, as opposed to many retail establishments of the time which offered credit to area farmers and received payment at harvest time.
   In 1891, he convinced his physician brother, John Montgomery Belk, to give up his practice and join his business. The brothers opened a second store in 1892 in Chester, SC, followed by a third in Union, SC, in 1893, and then their fourth store in Charlotte, NC, in September 1895. The Charlotte store became the first known as Belk Brothers Company.
   Realizing that stores need careful on-site management, the Belks began to amke partnerships with new store managers when they opened new facilities. Thus, the hyphenated Belk-(fill in the blank) stores were created and the chain dramatically grew.
   William Henry finally married on June 9, 1915, at the age of 53 to Mary Lenora Irwin. They had six children: William Henry Jr., Sarah, John (Montgomery), Irwin, Henderson and Thomas (Milburn).
   He was a philanthropist for many Presbyterian churches and programs, including hospitals and an orphans' home.
   When William Henry Belk died, there were more than 400 Belk Stores across the Southeast.


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