ROCKINGHAM — A department store serving shoppers for nearly 50 years showed off its fresh face and modern look to customers and county business leaders Thursday.
Belk of Rockingham hosted the Richmond County Chamber of Commerce for a grand reopening celebration to highlight an overhaul of the store that followed completion of its new facade during the Richmond Plaza shopping center’s $3 million renovation.
“We’re just thrilled, and the customers love it,” said store manager Lynnette Kennedy. “They have been very complimentary of what the store has done.”
Richmond Plaza developers Tri-City Inc. made Belk’s exterior upgrades the first phase of its project to modernize the shopping center. Kennedy said the property owners’ investment led Belk officials to green-light a $150,000 remodel of the store’s interior.
“This was a corporate effort,” Kennedy said. “We were visually laid out like we are a larger-volume store. I can’t say enough about Tri-City. All of this happened because of the renovations that were made in the strip center.”
Belk’s overhaul began in November and was mostly complete by February. A cosmetics counter near the entrance was relocated, giving shoppers a clearer view of the jewelry, cosmetics and men’s and women’s apparel departments. The entire store was repainted, two-thirds of the floor space was carpeted and new signs, shelves and fixtures were installed.
Kennedy said the “carpeted shelves in the shoe department — literally out of the ’70s” were removed, and the store added several apparel lines including Belk’s Crown & Ivy plus-size label and men’s Nike and Under Armour gear. She said an expanded selection of women’s petite sizes is also on the way.
Belk remained open during both exterior and interior renovations.
“We had our store all torn apart,” Kennedy said. “Customers were patient during the remodel.”
To reward shoppers for their patience and welcome them to the new and improved store, Belk offered 25 percent off most items, 20 percent off cosmetics, fragrances, housewares and shoes and 15 percent off electronics. The store also provided music and refreshments and held hourly drawings for prize giveaways.
Founded in Monroe in 1888, Belk now boasts more than 300 stores in 16 Southern states and is the nation’s largest privately owned department store chain. Headquartered in Charlotte, the company is now owned by private equity firm Sycamore Partners following a $3 billion sale announced last August.
RICHMOND PLAZA GROWTH
In June 2015, Tri-City announced a complete renovation of Richmond Plaza including sleeker storefronts, a reconfigured parking lot and the addition of new tenants. Modernizing the shopping center is expected to cost between $2.5 million and $3.5 million.
Tri-City CEO Neil Robinette said the facelift will benefit tenants and shoppers — and hopefully encourage more Richmond County residents to shop local.
“We hope it gets people in the mindset of shopping here instead of traveling elsewhere to spend their shopping dollars,” he said. “There’s an excessive amount that flows outside that could be spent here. We’re trying to capture that. We’re also trying to capture surrounding markets that may not have the retail presence we have here.”
Residents who want to see more retail and restaurant development can help bring about that vision by spending more of their money where they live, Robinette said.
“Everyone wants new things,” he said. “In order to get it, you’ve got to support what you have now.”
Richmond Plaza will add fashion retailers Rainbow and Rue21, coffee and baked-goods chain Dunkin’ Donuts and locally owned frozen yogurt shop Twisted Treats to its roster of tenants in the coming months. Robinette said more announcements are forthcoming.
Kenneth Robinette, Neil’s father and the Richmond County Board of Commissioners chairman, said retail sales taxes account for roughly a fifth of the county government’s operating budget.
“I can’t stress enough how important it is to try to keep our dollars in Richmond County,” he said, “because it does directly affect our tax base here.”
Kenneth Robinette is also a member of For A Better Richmond County, a citizens’ group working to find solutions to systemic challenges and burnish the community’s image. Adding more options for shopping and dining — and supporting those already here — will boost the county’s civic pride, he said.
“It’s a sense of pride,” he said. “It’s a sense of quality of life. That’s what we’re trying to do here.”
Reach Editor Corey Friedman at 910-817-2670 and follow him on Twitter @corey_friedman.