Dazzling new Belk debuts in North Augusta

As customers checked out the new-and-improved Belk of North Augusta at its grand reopening last week, it was hard to believe that not too long ago the future of the store was in jeopardy.

When a new shopping area was planned at the Village at Riverwatch in Augusta, speculation ran high that the North Augusta store would close following the opening of the new Augusta store.

Now, Belk in North Augusta boasts an addition of 20,000 square feet, making the expanded store in Martintown Plaza more than 60,000 square feet of retail space. The store took in the area previously occupied by Goodwill on one side, as well as two store spaces on the other side.

And because the grand reopening came close to the holidays, the store is already decorated for Christmas with sparkles, red ornaments and greenery everywhere.

Manager Stella Northington and her staff were on hand for a celebration last Wednesday that included a breakfast tour for media, a ribbon cutting, a check to North Augusta 2000 and more than 400 gift cards for customers.

The line began forming at 6 a.m. Wednesday for the chance at the gift cards, which included amounts from $5 to $500 (with four of the big prizes available). By the time the store opened at 9:30 a.m., the line for the gift cards and shopping extended to the end of the shopping center, beyond Office Depot.

Northington said she was fortunate to be the manager of the local store, and her regional manager, Sandy Foskey agreed. A 37-year-veteran with Belk, Foskey said, "I've never seen customers like the North Augusta customers." He and the local manager noted that the customers had greeted the changes in the store with enthusiasm, even when they were surrounded by construction and inconvenience as the store grew to a third more than its previous size.

Attending the formal portion of the ribbon cutting and grand opening were North Augusta Mayor Lark Jones, North Augusta Chamber of Commerce President Terra Carroll and both executive director Kathy Gilliland and Chairman Tom Greene of North Augusta 2000.

Jones called the local Belk store "a staple and a leader in North Augusta for 50 years." He quipped that when he was first elected mayor, a voter told him his No. 1 job was to keep the Belk store in Aiken.

"We worried a few years ago about losing our No. 1 store," said Jones, who concluded the festivities made for a "great day for Belk and a wonderful day for North Augusta."

The Belk company expressed its appreciation to the community with a $5,000 donation to North Augusta 2000 "because you do so much for the community," said Northington as she presented the check to Greene and Gilliland. "You try to make North Augusta even better than it is," the manager added, "if that's possible."

Greene responded, "This $5,000 will go a long way toward achieving that goal."

Once the store opened its doors, following the ribbon cutting, longtime sales associate Ruby Guillebeaux was busy helping customers as she commented on the changes during her tenure.

"We've grown a lot," said the 20-year veteran who started out in costume jewelry and is now over the combined children's department (which includes big boys, younger boys, infants and girls).

"I love it," she said of her job. "I love my children; I'm here to stay."

Providing music as the backdrop for the festivities was Devern Roof and "The Henrys" (Henry Wynn Jr. and Henry Wynn III).

Customers entering the store after the ribbon cutting not only had a chance at the gift cards (handed out to the first 400 in line) but also could get a free miniature "Belkie bear," a signature item at Belk during Christmas. And customers signing up for a credit card received a free traveling cup for cold drinks.

The new Belk in North Augusta has expanded many of its popular departments, including an enlarged shoe department, now located at the front door, a larger home shop, cosmetic department and seasonal department.

Belk is located in Martintown Plaza. 1163 Knox Ave. The phone number is 279-4420. Store hours are Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday from 12:30 to 6 p.m.

For more information, visit belk.com.