Wednesday, March 08, 2006

McRae's was a Mississippi icon

Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal

TUPELO, Miss. - A Mississippi retailing icon for more than a century, McRae's was founded by Samuel P. McRae Sr. and two business partners in Jackson.

But the company that bought it is even older.

Belk Inc., a privately held department store based in Charlotte, N.C., was founded by William Henry Belk in Monroe, N.C., in 1888. The company last year bought McRae's and Proffitt's from Saks Inc. and has renamed them Belk.

McRae's long has been a successful and popular retailer in Tupelo, having first opened at the old Tupelo Mall. But when developers for The Mall at Barnes Crossing were looking for anchor tenants 16 years ago, McRae's was one of the first to sign on.

"Without them, we couldn't have done it," said mall general manager Jeff Snyder.

McRae's was independent until 1994, when Birmingham-based Proffitt's bought the then-28-store chain. Four years later, Proffitt's Inc. and Saks Holdings Inc. completed a merger that saw Saks Fifth Avenue and Off 5th stores become a division of Proffitt's. The Proffitt's name gave way to Saks. In July, Saks completed the sale of its Proffitt's and McRae's stores to Belk for $622 million.

Belk also is a familiar name to area shoppers. It was once at The Mall at Barnes Crossing in the spot now occupied by Parisian.

"The Belk people remember and the Belk of today are totally different," said Snyder. "They've really increased and developed their merchandise mix and services, and have become a really strong retailer."

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