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Belk is a chain of discount department stores in the American southeast and midwest. As of 2003, Belk, Inc. is the nation's largest privately owned department store organization.

It started when 26-year-old William Henry Belk opened a small bargain store in Monroe, N.C., on May 29, 1888. The store measured only 22 by 70 feet, about 1,500 square feet total. Belk called it the New York Racket, as he thought it made the store sound big and would attract business.

Belk started with $750 in savings, a $500 loan from a local widow at 10% interest, and about $3,000 worth of goods taken on consignment from a bankrupt store. In less than seven months, he had paid off his debts and netted a $3,300 profit.

Belk introduced some new retailing ideas. He bought large quantities of goods for cash and sold for cash at a low mark-up. All merchandise was clearly marked with its retail price -- no haggling. Customers could return any merchandise purchased if they were not completely satisfied. These innovative ideas helped the Belk stores succeed and grow.

Belk also used innovative advertising concepts. His slogan for the first store was "Cheap Goods Sell Themselves," and he referred to the New York Racket store and other early stores as "The Cheapest Store on Earth." He often wrote his own lively and humorous newspaper ads.

In 1891, William Henry Belk persuaded his brother, Dr. John Belk, to leave the medical profession and become a partner in the Monroe store, beginning a 37-year business association. The company became Belk Brothers Company. The brothers opened a second store in 1893 in Chester, S.C., and a third in 1894 in Union, S.C. In 1895, William Henry Belk left the Monroe store to open the company's fourth store in Charlotte, N.C.

Dr. John Belk continued to manage the Monroe store until his death in 1928. William Henry Belk headed the Belk stores until his death at age 89 in 1952.

As of 2003, there are approximately 210 Belk stores in 13 states in the southeast and mid-Atlantic regions. The stores are still privately owned and operated by the Belk families after more than 111 years. The children and other descendants of William Henry Belk and John M. Belk own the majority of the stock. John M. Belk, son of founder William Henry Belk, is chairman of the board and chief executive officer. Thomas M. (Tim) Belk, Jr., is president of store divisions and real estate of Belk, Inc. H. W. McKay Belk is president of merchandising and marketing, and John R. (Johnny) Belk is president of finance, systems, and operations.