Arthur: Belk’s Hidden South Park Wine & Restaurant

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Walk into any mall across Carolina and you’ll likely find Belk—or “Belk’s,” as most Southerners insist on calling the department store founded in Monroe in 1888. But venture into the basement of SouthPark Belk, and you’ll find what makes it. Belk’s most exclusive store – with a restaurant and wine shop tucked away behind the bedding and kitchen electrical department.

For decades, Arthur’s Wine Shop & Restaurant has been a hit with wine aficionados and shoppers looking for a hearty lunch or dinner. However, it was not always located in SouthPark Belk. Arthur Pressman ran the original Arthur’s Gourmet Shop at the corner of Church and Fifth Streets in the former Clayton Hotel.

Current owner Steve Balsley and his two brothers bought the winery in 1972. “We had been on Church Street for a year when the building was purchased to be paved for a parking lot,” Balsley told Charlotte Fife. “By then, we had started selling sandwiches for 49 cents because we couldn’t make a profit out of just a bottle shop. Soda was a nickel, maybe a dime.”

Many of the Charlotte Observer’s young reporters ate at Arthur’s Restaurant; Upon hearing about the predicament, they posted a story. On the same day, people called Arthur’s to offer rental space, including one of the banks offering their basement! Arthur didn’t move far—just across the street, to be exact. “We moved into the basement of the Ivy Store, a rival department store in Belk that started at the turn of the century,” Balsley said.

Growing with Ivy

When Balsley and his brothers bought Arthur, she sold individual cigarettes, combs, and Goody’s powder. They would sell anything to make money. We were the largest distributor of Roma Rocket wines in North Carolina,” Balsley laughed. According to the June 22, 1973 issue of The Charlotte Observer, the original Arthur’s Gourmet Shop “served the Winos who drank in the cemetery across Church Street.”

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Restaurant owner Arthur Steve Balsley. Alex Casson Charlotte Five

The brothers dreamed of turning Arthur’s into a bottling shop, but soon realized they needed to sell food to supplement the wine sales. In 1974, Arthur’s moved with Ivey’s to SouthPark Mall and began to grow. At one point, Arthur ran restaurants at the Ivy sites in Durham; Greensboro. Greenville, South Carolina; Myrtle Beach and Raleigh. Charlotte’s website, the only website currently operating, remained the leader.

“Dillard bought Ivy and decided to shut us down,” Balsley said. “Mr. Ivy called Mr. Belk and asked if they had a place for us – we moved to Belk in 1990 and we’ve been here ever since.”

Old staff like Donna VanCamp have been working with the restaurant for a long time. “I’ve been here for 32 years,” Vancamp said. “It was a great experience, it’s a great place to work.”

Celebrating 50 years

Arthur has her fair share of old clients, too. “We’re serving three generations now,” Balsley said. “We have kids who have grown up eating here and now bringing their kids.” Diners return for grilled food, including burgers, sandwiches, and salads. “Our list is still somewhat old,” Balsley said. “But it works, so why change it?”

Balsley believes Arthur’s was the first restaurant in Charlotte to serve cheese slices. “I moved to Charlotte from Philly when I was 14 so I grew up eating steak and cheese. But my favorite item on my menu is Reuben with Thousand Island Sauce,” Balsley said.

The wine shop is now separate from the restaurant, but across the basement from Belk. Balsley’s brother is a wine guru – he’s visited Australia, California and New Zealand to learn about wine and is happy to share knowledge with clients.

Arthur recently had a fiftieth anniversary party. Long-time clients celebrate from near and far – including the lady who visits Charlotte from Los Angeles twice a year and swings by Arthur’s to buy sweet tea on each visit.

Next time you’re working on hearty shopping at SouthPark Mall, head down to Belk’s basement—you might just find your new favorite steak, or find yourself walking around the store with a glass of wine in hand.

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The dining room of Arthur’s Restaurant inside the Belk of the SouthPark Mall in Charlotte. Alex Casson Charlotte Five

Arthur

Location: 4400 Sharon Road, Charlotte, NC 28211

Neighborhood: SouthPark

food menu

Cuisine: American

Opening hours: Monday to Saturday, 10 am to 8 pm; Sunday, 11 AM – 5 PM

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Phillip’s job to the city connects him with neighborhoods throughout Charlotte. Around the clock, he’s often exploring public art, playing outside, or trying new food. Follow him on Twitter @philipfreeman

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