Business

Sycamore Partners completes purchase of Belk

Belk at SouthPark
Belk at SouthPark mhames@charlotteobserver.com

Another one of Charlotte’s homegrown retailers has changed hands.

New York private equity firm Sycamore Partners said Thursday that it has completed its purchase of Charlotte-based department store company Belk, effectively ending 127 years of local ownership.

As part of the deal, Belk has said its headquarters will remain in Charlotte, and Tim Belk will continue as chief executive officer.

“Our partnership with Sycamore will contribute to Belk’s continued success, and we look forward to leveraging Sycamore’s deep knowledge of the retail market to best serve our dedicated customers and provide even greater opportunities for our valued team members,” Belk said in a statement.

Belk started as a small shop in Monroe in 1888 and grew into the largest family-owned department store chain in the U.S., with nearly 300 locations dotting 16 Southeastern states. The iconic Southern brand has commanded a loyal following despite competition from stores like Dillard’s and Macy’s.

Industry pressure

In April, Belk launched an analysis of its future options amid increasing pressure from both online and brick-and-mortar retailers. The company said in August that it had agreed to sell itself to New York-based Sycamore for $3 billion. Belk shareholders approved the deal in early November.

Stefan Kaluzny, Sycamore’s managing director, added Thursday that Belk is poised for “continued growth and success.”

Like many other retailers, Belk’s business has been pressured by the surge in online shopping. Experts consider the company relatively late to the e-commerce scene: Until late 2008, its website offered only gift cards, gift registries and a small selection of home goods. And, overloaded with high volume, the site went down for hours over Black Friday and Thanksgiving in 2013, some of the year’s busiest shopping days.

Belk has since invested heavily in its online presence. To focus resources on e-commerce, as well as to trim expenses, Belk, like its competitors, has been closing underperforming stores. The company’s current store count of 296 is down from 311 in 2007.

Few changes in stores

Belk executives have said that customers and employees won’t notice many major changes under the new ownership. The retailer hasn’t announced any layoffs or store closures related to the deal, for example.

The only corporate employment shakeups so far include the departure of chief operating officer Johnny Belk, Tim’s brother, and the retirement of general counsel Ralph Pitts. Both are set to leave the company at the end of January.

Sycamore’s purchase of Belk is one of several examples recently of local retailers changing hands. Earlier this year, shareholders of Matthews-based Family Dollar approved a sale to Virginia-based Dollar Tree, and last year, grocer Harris Teeter was sold to Cincinnati-based Kroger.

Belk is Sycamore’s largest deal yet and its first department store purchase. The firm’s portfolio consists mostly of investments in specialty apparel companies including Aéropostale, Coldwater Creek, Hot Topic, Jones New York, Nine West Holdings and Talbots.

Belk employs about 1,300 at its headquarters on Tyvola Road.

Katherine Peralta: 704-358-5079, @katieperalta

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