The Belk store was a large part of the Spruce Pine community for nearly 75 years. Initially opening in 1928 in a building next to today’s Dellinger’s Christian Book Store, it was operated like many other Belk enterprises: the Charlotte-based company joined with another group in a partnership, often a family. In the case of the first store in Spruce Pine, the White family was the minority owner and it was named Belk-White. Belk-White operated locations in North and South Carolina, and the Spruce Pine business was paired with a similar store in Boone and merchandisers purchased stock for both stores.
In the 1930s, a tragic fire destroyed the Locust Street building. Belk then relocated to a new structure constructed on Oak Avenue by Charles Gunter, which today is home to Tokyo Restaurant. This building was completed in 1941 and was built by stone masons Charlie Mitchell and Dave Greene who were also responsible for two prominent churches in Spruce Pine: First Baptist and St. Lucien along with a variety of other stone structures in the area. The Gunter Building is covered with rock containing mica, and some accounts state that the stone came from the tunnel excavations on the railroad at The Loops in Altapass. Sometime in this time frame, the Broome family replaced the Whites as minority owner of the Spruce Pine Belk, and the store became known as Belk-Broome.
In 1955, Belk made another move, returning to Locust Street and the location of the Spruce Pine Store. This was operated by the Harris Mining Company that sold general merchandise and offered credit options to company workers. The building was originally constructed in the 1920s by Harris Mining and today is home to a variety of businesses, including DT’s Blue Ridge Java. As the era of company-operated stores was drawing to a close, Belk took the opportunity to expand into a larger location with the move. This was successful and Belk on Lower Street became a destination from shoppers from throughout the region.
After the move back down onto Locust Avenue, the store changed ownership groups: in the mid-1970s, the Beery family purchased the assets of the Broomes following the death of the founder. The Beery ownership was notable because they brought cosmetics into the merchandise being sold and the stores became more fashion-oriented, adding ladies and juniors lines of clothing. Later, Belk began consolidating control of their stores and taking over for the minority owners. The Spruce Pine store moved into the Boone group and later the Asheville Belk group.
Belk served as one of the anchor stores of retail in Spruce Pine until 1991, when it was closed. The Charlotte headquarters made the decision to focus on regional stores located in shopping malls and larger towns, abandoning the small hometown locations that had operated for decades. Locally, the stores in Spruce Pine and Marion were closed, while locations in Boone and Morganton continue to operate (and are still open today).
Managers of Belk after it returned to Locust Street were Max Poteet (1955-1980) whose wife Vera was a beloved music teacher in Spruce Pine schools for decades; Clyde Young, Jr. (1980-1982); Don Willis (1982-1984); Robert Branch (1984-1990); and Wanda Thomas (1990-1991).
Special thanks go to Robert Branch, a former manager of Belk in Spruce Pine, for his assistance in the history of Belk, the ownership groups, and of the Spruce Pine store. Also, thanks go to Bruce Ikard for help with information on Belk in Spruce Pine in the 1980s.
Belk of course had signage to lead shoppers to their location. This billboard was located where the Mitchell News-Journal is today. Posing in front of the sign is Doris Rhyne Thompson, who achieved later fame both as a teacher in Spruce Pine schools and as the first woman elected as a Spruce Pine Alderman. In the photo, she is being sworn into office by her husband Robert along with Aldermen Danny Burleson and Phillip Frye in 1990.