After more than a century, Belk still a Sanford staple

May. 30, 2013 @ 05:00 AM

Belk has now been in existence for 125 years, and the department store has been in Sanford for nearly that long.

In 1910, 103 years ago, the Charlotte-based retailer opened a store on Steele Street in downtown Sanford, where it remained for decades before moving to its current location off of Spring Lane in Riverbirch Plaza. At a 125th anniversary celebration at the store Wednesday morning, dozens of people lined up to receive gift cards, although their shopping sprees were delayed slightly by several local economic and political leaders who spoke about the affect the store has had on Lee County.

“This has been one of the sustaining anchors in Sanford for a very long time,” Mayor Cornelia Olive said, eliciting laughter when she talked about going there to find garter belts, slips and hosiery back in the day, when the store also had an entire department devoted just to hats.

Charlie Parks, chairman of the Lee County Board of Commissioners, said he appreciates how much Belk gives back in terms of community service and nonprofit aid. Parks said he’s thankful for the knowledgeable and friendly staff who keep him and his wife — but mainly his wife, he joked — well-dressed. But most of all, he said, he admires the store’s ability to stay afloat in the current economy.

“Even through the hard times, they’re expanding,” he said. “They keep growing.”

Like Olive, Sanford Area Chamber of Commerce President Bob Joyce said he has fond memories of the Steele Street location, although unlike Olive, he wasn’t looking for the garter belts.

“I remember going there with my mom, buying Boy Scout uniforms and riding the elevator up and down, and up again,” he said.

Brad Simpson, chairman of the Chamber’s board of directors, said he’s glad to have Belk in Sanford, and that any company that can make it to 125 years is well deserving of being honored.

With the crowd itching to go shopping or perhaps get one more cupcake decorated with “125,” Graham Spencer promised to be short in his remarks. Spencer, the store manager, presented a crystal plaque to Darlene Bergin for her 26 years of service — more than one-fifth of the time the chain has been in existence — and thanked the community for its support over the years.

“You really don’t know how much it means that you keep shopping with us,” he told the throng of people assembled outside. And with that, the gift card-wielding customers surged inside to do just that.