Time is running out for Belk’s Jewelers

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Closing Dec. 31

By David Meade

One of the oldest family run businesses in town is closing. Belk’s Jewelers located at 38 East Main Street in downtown Williamston, has served the area since 1958. The business was started by Murley Columbus Belk in 1958. M. C. Belk worked for McKinney’s Jewelry on Main St. in Greenville before coming to Williamston in 1957 and opening his own jewelry business.

Through the years, Belk’s Jewelers has sold diamond rings, engagement rings, wedding rings, Masonic rings, high school rings, pendents, necklaces, bracelets and earrings. Gold, silver and sterling.

Women came from as far as Honea Path and Anderson, to have their ears pierced at Belk’s Jewelers in Williamston.

M. C. Belk had as many as 20,000 ear piercings, and his son Dan, who has run the business for the last 33 years, estimated he has done around 2000.

For area residents, it was the place to buy jewelry and watches. And they did repairs.

M. C. Belk was a self taught “watchmaker” a term that describes someone who works on and repairs watches.

“He never was schooled in it,”said Dan, who is also a “watchmaker”. “He picked up the jewelry business when he came here,” Dan said.

The elder Mr. Belk offered watchmaking (repair) and jewelry to customers in Williamston and surrounding areas until 1982, when he retired and sold the business to one of three sons, who along with a daughter, also worked at the family owned business when they were growing up.

Dan was the son who bought the business from his dad and continued in it.

He and his siblings started at an early age, cleaning the glass display cases and doing other things eight and nine year olds could do. “I could barely reach over the the counter,” he said.

After graduating high school, Dan continued in his father’s footsteps, attending watchmaking school in Orangeburg, before “the army joined me,” he said.

After two years of service to his country, Dan returned to Williamston and began working fulltime in the the business in 1974.

Dan, now 65, has decided it’s time to close the doors.

Operating a small town business has changed a lot in the last 20 to 30 years.

Dan purchased quality diamonds and other jewelry from wholesalers “up north”, buying from Chicago, New York and Ohio.

He sold a lot of watches, and offered watch and jewelry repair. Gold and sterling were popular.

“There are a lot of good memories,” he said. “We sold some nice diamonds and gold earrings. We sold good watches and always did good,” he said.

Watchmaking went from windup and spring loaded to working on electronic watches with a tuning fork, before quartz came out. He also replaced a lot of batteries.

“Cheap watches about wiped us out,” he said. “People began leaving Williamston and going to Anderson and Greenville.”

At one time, four jewelry stores including served customers in the Williamston area. All but Belk’s are gone.

Dan continued selling and repairing jewelry and watches, sizing rings and setting stones. “We still do,” he said.

Belk’s Jewelers is one of the few places in the upstate that still offers watch repair.

The business has old watchmaking tools, dating back to the 1920s, that are used for the delicate repairs. “I have worked on pocket watches that were 150 years old,” Dan said.

“All the watchmakers are gone, except the exclusive ones.” And according to Belk, “they aren’t cheap.”

He also has equipment and tools used in the jewelry business including a cleaning machine from the 1970s, which is still used.

The tradition of working in a family business also continued with his two daughters, Kayla and Danetha, both working there while they were in high school and during peak times for many years after. His wife Vickie also works with him.

All four family members will be at Belk’s Jewelers this week, helping customers with their holiday shopping, as they have for years. Only this time, it will be the last.

Belk said about three years ago he tried semi-retiring and began taking days off. At that time buying and sellling gold was popular as a lot of people were selling old jewelry for cash.

Dan said he saw he either needed to be at the business more, or not be there at all. He recently decided it was time to close.

December 31 will be the last day of businesss for Belk’s Jewelers.

“I feel sad about it . . . and then sometimes I don’t,” he said. “It’s been a ride.”

Now through Christmas Eve, all items in the store are marked 33% to 50% off their original price.