BUFORD - Belk kicked off a month of special events with a pre-grand opening affair Thursday evening in its new Mall of Georgia store. The store will open its doors to the public at 10 a.m. Wednesday in the former Lord and Taylor's location.
More than 200 members of the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce lined up outside to welcome Belk into the South's largest mall.
Royce Pittman, regional vice president, worked with the Chamber to organize the event.
"We want to welcome our area business partners," Pittman said.
The first 200 visitors received a $10 gift certificate and registered for door prizes. Chamber members dined on gourmet finger foods prepared by Chef Eric Catering and Events. The Breeze jazz band serenaded shoppers while they previewed and purchased the upscale merchandise.
Belk's loyal customers from its former Riverside Drive location noticed the immensity of the new store, which doubled in size from 60,000 square feet to 121,000 square feet. The store will open with about 100 employees.
"We processed about 900 applications and brought 25 employees (from Riverside Drive) to get our staff," Pittman said. "My philosophy is 'Hire attitude, train skills.'"
The product line has changed, too.
"We are catering to a higher end shopper," said Lori Brown-Jackson, store manager. "The Riverside Drive store really wasn't big enough. Here, we have room to offer better merchandise, like Dooney and Bourke, Tahari suits, and Hart Schaffner and Marx suits."
Customers will have more variety to select from at their local Belk.
"We had 30 to 40 china patterns at Riverside Drive," said Melissa Peters, bridal consultant and three-year employee. "Now we offer 89 patterns."
Store sales are expected to more than double because of location and the upscaled product line, Brown-Jackson said.
"The possibilities here are endless," she said.
Customers can take advantage of a multitude of discounts and special promotions within the first weeks of opening.
Shoppers will earn a merchandise discount Wednesday in return for a $5 donation to their favorite participating charity or nonprofit organization. Customers can "Take A Break from Bills" Wednesday through Sunday with a scratch-off card that might award them a year's worth of free gasoline, a $1,000 Belk shopping spree, Belk gift cards valued from $10 to $500 and ten percent off merchandise purchased from April 10 to 13.
Belk will give away four $250 shopping sprees, and customers who apply for a Belk credit card will have a chance to win a PT Cruiser convertible.
Saturday is Diva Day. The first 50 girls to walk the red carpet in the girls department will receive a photo souvenir, mini makeovers and prizes.
Cosmetic Signature Days will take place May 12 - 13 when representatives from Clinque, Lancome and Estee Lauder will offer makeovers, giveaways, samples and refreshments.
William Henry Belk opened a 1,500-square-foot bargain store in Monroe, N.C., in 1888. Today, more than 220 Belk stores operate in 14 states. The company is still privately owned and operated by the Belk family.