Belk may be browsing for a buyer

Charlotte-based Belk is reportedly considering a sale as it explores options for the 297-store chain.

Charlotte-based Belk, a mainstay of the Charleston shopping scene for nearly nine decades, is exploring all options for the 297-store chain, a representative said Thursday after it was reported the retailer is seeking a buyer.

Those options could include a possible sale of the 127-year-old department store, according to Reuters. The news service cited unidentified people.

The sale could value the largest family owned and operated department store chain in the U.S. as much as $4 billion, including debt.

Belk has hired investment bank Goldman Sachs Group Inc. to help it evaluate strategic alternatives, Belk spokeswoman Jessica Graham said in a statement to The Post and Courier.

“Belk’s focus on a long-term strategic approach has been a key factor in the company’s success. We are entering our scheduled five-year strategic planning process within a rapidly changing industry,” she said. “We are coming off a successful fourth quarter, have a strong financial position and are enthusiastic about our future.

“We also believe, however, that we have an obligation to consider whether there are alternatives to our current plans that would provide a better return for our stockholders,” Graham said. “As such, we are performing due diligence to carefully explore all options for our future. As a part of that process, the company has engaged Goldman Sachs to assist us in identifying and evaluating those options.”

Belk expects to conclude its analysis in the next several months, she said.

Major department stores such as Macy’s, Bon-Ton Stores and Nordstrom, as well as large private-equity firms are expected to be contacted by Belk to solicit their interest in a deal, according to Reuters.

Belk operates mainly in the Southern region of the United States.

The North Carolina chain has been selling clothing and other goods in Charleston since 1926, when Belk-Robinson Co. opened at 232 King St., now the site of Belmond Charleston Place. Belk has four department stores throughout the region, including a newly expanded “flagship” location at Mount Pleasant Towne Centre.

Founded in 1888 by William Henry Belk, the company is in the third generation of Belk-family leadership.

In the fiscal year that ended Jan. 31, the chain had sales of $4.1 billion, an increase of 1.8 percent compared to the previous 12-month period.

Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or