Pinecrest Plaza and the Story of a Family Store
The Pilot has been full of good news lately. But for me, the best news has been that Pinecrest Plaza, this area's premier shopping center, is going to get a belated face-lift. In case you missed it, it was bought last September by a third-party company and is being handled by an architectural firm in Atlanta.
Several weeks ago, I noticed that the banks bordering the center along Morganton Road and U.S. 15-501 had been weeded and raked. A couple of days later, new shrubs were being put in and pansies had been planted, replacing layers of discolored pine straw.
Granted, Pinecrest Plaza is not the only shopping center in this area that needs some sprucing up. But it's the plaza with the prestigious presence of North Carolina-based Belk Department Store, an original anchor, that has the greatest potential. And, thankfully, someone has been smart enough to realize that.
The history of the Belk chain is, in itself, newsworthy enough and perhaps even worth the whole $22.25 million it cost to purchase the entire aging complex.
Belk was founded in 1888 in Monroe, and "bargain sales" and good advertising quickly prompted its growth - until at the end of just 20 years, it built its first flagship store in Charlotte on the corner of Trade and Tryon streets. Eighty years later, that store was closed to make way for the Bank of America Corporate Center and the North Carolina Blumenthal Arts Center.
Today, Belk is the largest family-operated department store company in the United States, with more than 300 stores in 19 states. With flagship locations including SouthPark Mall in Charlotte, Crabtree Valley Mall in Raleigh, The Summit in Birmingham, Ala., and Phipps Plaza in Atlanta, Belk generates annual sales nearing the $4 billion mark.
So why is all this so interesting to me? It's because my first paying job was at Belk-Leggett in Durham, a partnership formed in 1921 with the Leggett Bros. store out of South Boston, Va.
I was at Durham High School and a member of the Co-op Class (Cooperative Classes.) There were 10 of us going to school for half the day and then leaving to go to work when the bell rang for lunch. Seven of the students were boys who worked in either an automotive garage or a grocery store. It had been harder for our instructor to find a job for me and Mary Pendergraph and Nancy Suitt. But, she finally had - at Belk-Leggett on Main Street.
Mary and Nancy worked in the layaway department on the third floor, punching in payments as low as a quarter a week, while I worked in the basement folding and stocking heavy denim outdoor work clothes and long underwear. All three of us started at 35 cents an hour.
Mary and Nancy loved the layaway department and quickly learned to handle the Saturday lines that formed for payment or pickup. But I welcomed the opportunity to be moved to the millinery department on the second floor.
That was when women sat down at a table and looked at themselves in the mirror while Mrs. Pugh, the saleslady, placed one hat after another on their heads.
I thought I was in heaven. Then I was transferred to the gift and bridal department, with all the fine china, crystal and whatnots. And that's where it really was. I was now earning $12.50 a week.
Two years later, I had a college classmate whose father was one of the owners of Belk-Tyler in Wilson. After moving to Raleigh, I joined a civic club and volunteered with a woman whose family represented the Hudson side of Hudson-Belk located on Fayetteville Street. And, when the new store opened in Crabtree Valley Mall, the biggest shopping center between Richmond and Atlanta, I modeled in their beautifully decorated dining room wearing the latest in a line of upscale fashions.
There's something special about a success story. And there are others related to North Carolina companies, including Food Lion, Lowe's Home Center and Roses five-and-10. But it is that store that took in three co-op students that comes out winning the ribbon for being the best of what is "home-grown."
The spokesman for the Atlanta firm orchestrating the plaza's face-lift was quoted as saying the project will be finished by the 2013 holiday season.
It isn't something you can put under a Christmas tree. But, still, that's what I call a present.
Lois Holt is a Southern Pines writer. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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