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THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 13, 2007
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Shoppers lined up early Wednesday to snap up some 250 free gift cards at the grand opening of Belk in the Colonial Mall space formerly occupied by Parisian.
Daily photo by John Godbey
Shoppers lined up early Wednesday to snap up some 250 free gift cards at the grand opening of Belk in the Colonial Mall space formerly occupied by Parisian.

River City shoppers check out major new store
Hundreds welcome Belk to mall

By Eric Fleischauer
eric@decaturdaily.com 340-2435

The grand opening of Belk Inc. at Colonial Mall was Wednesday, and hundreds stood outside waiting for the doors to unlock at 10 a.m.

Formerly Parisian, Belk celebrated by giving 250 gift cards. Considerably more than 250 were waiting in line by 9:45.

While ads for the event said, "One lucky person will walk away with a gift card worth $10,000," store manager Wayne Freeman said there was only one $10,000 gift card for the re-opening as Belk.

"I didn't hear anyone screaming and yelling they got the $10,000 one," Freeman said. "I did hear that several got $100. I think one person got $500. So there was quite a bit of money floating out there this morning."

The draw apparently worked, as many shoppers walked out of the store with arms of clothing.

"Sales are far beyond my expectations," Freeman said. "It's extremely busy."

The major change in the store is the addition of the Belk Home Store.

"We didn't add anything to the building, but we recouped non-selling space," Freeman said. "We added 6,000 or 7,000 square feet of selling space by doing that. It made a huge impact.

"It's very bright and colorful, with high ceilings for all the home products. That's by far the biggest change. We didn't have a home store in Parisian, so this was a great addition for the customers here."

Belk, based in Charlotte, N.C., bought 38 Parisian stores from Saks Inc. last year for $285 million. It sold some. Twenty-five, including the Decatur store and two in Huntsville, it renamed Belk.

Freeman said the transition since Belk bought the store last fall has been gradual. Beginning in spring, the store began receiving Belk merchandise.

"Except for some clearance items, now it's all Belk," Freeman said.

He said, aside from the Home Store, the types of merchandise at Belk are similar to what the store carried when it was Parisian.

"There's very little difference. Some of the brands are different. Parisian had its own private brands; Belk has its own private brands," Freeman said. "So far, the customers seem to be liking what they see."

Jessica Higdon of Decatur, who was in the early rush with two of her daughters, said she loved the appearance of the renovated store.

"It looks great. I like how it's set up, and I like the selection," Higdon said, as her daughters jostled for riding rights on a rocking horse. "It looks so much bigger than it did before."

Eyeing the colorful display of children's dresses, she said, "My 8-year-old daughter is going to go crazy when she sees this."

Freeman said the sale of Colonial Mall in July had no impact on the store's transition.

"We've had conversations with (the new owners)," he said. "They're wanting to make the mall better, and we're all for that."

The new owners met with Mayor Don Kyle and District 4 City Councilman Ronny Russell in August. Kyle said he was pleased with the new owners, who plan to make renovations to the facility.

"They're in it for the long haul and want to be contributing members of our community for many years," he said.

Kyle said Wednesday he has since been in contact with RGR officials but heard no specifics about a master renovation plan for the mall.

"I think they're looking first at securing the area they have and remodeling it into one of the more popular, current styles, so that they can lock in good higher-end tenants like Belk and Dillards," he said.

A Daily inspection of the mall Wednesday, found the 1970s-era shopping facility has 11 vacant stores. Another 13 are sealed with drywall and painted with decorative murals. Four more spaces contained non-retail establishments such as the Decatur Police substation and the Community Room.

The Daily found two vacant center-aisle booths. A sign posted in the door of one business, Mocha Teen, read, "closed due to lack of attendance."

The retail center's former owner, Colonial Properties Trust of Birmingham, sold the property to New York-based Republic Group Realty in July. Evan Berlanger contributed to this article.

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