Photo from Atlanta Time Machine of the Belk Gallant store in Buckhead in 1954. It took over 30-40 years for Belk to return to Buckhead, and today it is the Georgia flagship located in Phipps Plaza.
When Belk was last in Atlanta, Belk was under a partnership known as Belk Gallant. Located across the city and extending as far south as LaGrange and as far north as Dalton, it was the dominant Belk merchant in the city up until the 1970's. The backlash back then against what was viewed then as shoddy merchandise led to the complete pulling out of the core Atlanta market, dissolution of the Belk Gallant company and the changeover of remaining stores to Belk corporate: perhaps the only corporate Belk stores prior to 1998. However, most of the outlying Belk stores remained. References can still be found in web archives of much legal trouble that Belk Gallant faced years ago.
Belk Rhodes logo taken from a 1975 ad in the Rome News-Tribune.
Outside of Atlanta, other families dominated the Belk market. In most of South Georgia, Belk Matthews dominated. In Americus, it was Belk Hagin. In Savannah, it was Belk Beery. In Rome, Cedartown and Carrollton it was Belk Rhodes. All but Belk Matthews disappeared after 1998. Belk Matthews was still very much in existance as late as 2005, and is rumored to remain today at the Houston County Galleria. Belk Rhodes, however is long gone.
Today, much larger and streamlined Belk is pretty much dominating department store retailing in Georgia and seems to be poised as being the dark horse that is slowly dominating the department store industry in the South. Macy's is groaning under the weight of trying to be the Wal-Mart of department stores with locations equivalent to Kmart by modern retail standards. Dillard's is ailing in its own attempts to be like Belk, but target a more upscale demographic. This leaves America's very last family-owned department store in a very good position if the economic situation does not wreck them all. If alive today, Mr. Rich would indeed be envious.