In April of 1915, Robert M. Beall opened a simple dry goods store on Old Main Street in Bradentown Florida. He named it the "Dollar Limit," pricing nothing over a dollar. R.M. Beall invested his money in merchandise and little else. When the first good arrived from the North, he recycled their wooden packing cases, turning them upside down to use as display tables. The twenty-two year old saw opportunity in the fast growing pioneer community. His location was just steps from the docks where daily steamers brought passengers and freight from Tampa.
MOVING ON UP
Manatee County was growing fast with new farms and groves springing up and more visitors filling the few wooden boarding houses and hotels each winter season. The Dollar Limit Store thrived. Due to post World War I inflation, R.M. renamed his store the "V Dollar Limit" in 1920. The Florida Boom of the 1920's transformed Bradentown. Tall luxury hotels, new homes and offices sprang up almost overnight. An avid baseball fan, R.M. was responsible for bringing major league baseball to the city. In 1923 the St. Louis Cardinals arrived at what is now McKechnie Field for spring training. In 1924 Bradentown renamed itself Bradenton, and the "V Dollar Limit" moved into a fine new brick store across from the court house. Construction and land speculation reached a fever pitch, only to crash in 1926.
WEATHERING THE STORM
The end of the boom brought hardship to Florida. Many businesses closed and many more failed after the stock market crash. By 1932 R.M. was in debt. He lost his store to the bank, but he stayed on as manager. Throughout the Depression he worked hard and saved money in hopes of someday being able to buy back the business. Despite hard times, he still devoted himself to civic work, spearheading the creation of the Kiwanis Trailer Park, which brought tourists to the hard-pressed community. He guided it for 25 years, during which time it became the largest trailer park in the world.
ACHIEVING THE AMERICAN DREAM
In the 1940's America was at War. R.M.'s son Egbert (E.R.) joined the Army shortly after Pearl Harbor. Betty Beall, his high school aged sister, sold war bonds (an early example of telemarketing). Goods were scarce, but the war stimulated the economy. R.M. achieved his goal in 1944, paid off the bank and regained his business. Bealls ads of the period reflect Home Front patriotism. In 1946 E.R. returned from the army to join his father as junior partner in a newly christened Bealls Department Store.
THE FLORIDA BOOM
Post-war Florida grew at a fast pace. New roads and air conditioning were changing Florida living, as new suburbs and subdivisions sprang up. Bealls grew with it. E.R.'s "handshake deal" with Publix was the first step of building his vision of evolution and growth. In 1956, despite his father's predictions that "no one would shop way out there," E.R. opened a store at West Gate, Bradenton's first shopping center. There he implemented up-to-date retail ideas. R.M. continued to run the Downtown location.
SERVING FLORIDA COAST TO COAST
As America entered the sixties, Bealls took off like a rocket at Cape Canaveral. In 1962 the third store opened in Venice, and that year sales topped $1 million for the first time. Retirees were flocking to Southwest Florida, and Bealls had the merchandise they wanted. In just four years revenues doubled. Store number 4 opened in Punta Gorda in 1966, and in 1967 sales grew to $3 million. A year later with the opening of Bealls in Melbourne, the new tagline became "Serving Florida Coast to Coast." The decade ended with more growth driven changes. The first distribution center opened behind the Westgate store (5,000 square feet), and Bealls began its first import program. Also in 1969, R.M. was named Distinguished Citizen of Manatee County. His footprints were added to the walk at the courthouse where they can be seen today.
CONTINUING THE FAMILY TRADITION
As the decade began, E.R.'s son, Bob Beall joined his father and grandfather in the family business. His first assignment was opening and managing the new Dunedin store. Polyester was the fabric of the day, and pants suits flew off the racks. Growth demanded new technology. Bealls purchased its first IBM System 3 computer in 1973. It was used initially for accounts payable. Payroll soon followed. Advertising, too, was changing with the success of the first newspaper inserts in 1977. In the mid-seventies Bealls was honored as Retailer of the Year by the National Association of Mens & Boys Clubs. 1979 brought the end of an era when Robert M. Beall died at the age of 86. He had worked at the original store until the final year of his life. That same year saw new beginnings when Conrad Szymanski, R.M. Beall's grandson, started his career at Bealls.
Bob Beall became President and CEO upon the retirement of E.R. in 1980, and E.R. became Chairman of the Board. Bealls expanded in size and and scope as the decade progressed with 1981 sales reaching $38 million. Bealls had 23 stores, and the number of employees passed 1,000. Seven new stores opened in 1981-82 doubling the selling square footage of the chain. Bealls also staked out two new and different directions during this period. In 1982 the process of upgrading brands from budget to what was then known as "main floor" began. Bealls Outlet began five years later, spurred by E.R.'s inspiration after seeing the new and popular retail format in North Carolina. New talent was also part of the picture. Steve Knopik joined Bealls in 1984, the same year Betty Beall Szymanski and Cliff Walters joined the Board of Directors. Other landmark achievements of the eighties included the opening of the Corporate Center and DC and the introduction of the 401K Best Plan. By the end of the decade sales reached $110 million, and the R.M. Beall, Sr. Foundation was established.
GOING BEYOND THE FLORIDA BORDER
As the 20th century drew to a close, the company continued its momentum with significant growth and technical innovation. Some things did not change, however. The Governor's Award for community involvement was bestowed on Bealls in 1990. In 1991 Bealls Inc. was established, and Bealls Outlet became a stand-alone company with Paul Galizia and president. Customers embraced the new chain, and it experiendced explosive growth. The first store outside Florida opened when Bealls Outlet entered the Arizona market the following year. E.R. retired as Chairman of the Board in 1994. In 1995 Conrad Szymanski took the reins as President of Bealls Department Stores. Many changes followed. Two years later the first "big store" - twice the size of previous store plans - opened in Spring Hill. 1998 introduced beallsflorida.com, the company's initial foray into online retailing, and in-store kiosks appeared in the department stores soon after. By the turn of the century Bealls and Bealls Outlet together had 258 stores and employed 5,000 people.
LIVING THE FLORIDA LIFESTYLE
Though Bealls lost a moving force with the death of E.R. Beall on March 22, 2000, that year Bealls Outlet knocked the ball out of the park when Paul Galizia discontinued traditional advertising. $6 million went straight to the bottom line, funding an explosion of Bealls and Burkes Outlets in 17 states. In 2004 Bealls Department Stores opened its own design studio to develop Florida friendly private labels. A new tagline captured it all: "Live the Florida Lifestyle". Also in 2004, Matt Beall joined the Outlet division, the fourth generation of Bealls to work in the family enterprise. The latter part of the decade was a time of challenge. Six hurricanes ravaged Florida and the Gulf Coast in 2004-2005. The R.M. Beall, Sr. Foundation responded by assisting 580 employees with relief amounting to $410,000. Bealls employees raised an additional $109,000 to help their coworkers. 2007 brought needed expansion when the Tropicana office building was acquired and christened the "E.R. Beall Center." Recession struck the nation in 2008, impacting Florida in a particularly significant way. However, Bealls fiscal conservatism allowed it to retire all of its long-term debt and weather the storm.
RETAILING OUR WAY INTO THE FUTURE
Conrad Szymanski retired in 2012 after a 32 year career. In 2013 Bealls found new opportunities, with the outlet opening a Los Angeles buying office, and BeallsFlorida.com opening a central fulfillment center to handle its burgeoning sales. The outlet entered the online retail channel with the launch of burkesoutlet.com in 2014. In 2014 the Bealls company and family foundations exceeded the 7$ million mark in scholarships and donations since its inception. Meanwhile Bunulu, a new store concept, was under development for a 2015 debut, exactly 100 years after the Dollar Limit opened. Today, Bealls Inc., still headquartered in Bradenton, operates across Florida and the Southern states. One hundred years have witnessed unimaginable change, and contribution of thousands of good people. Today the Bealls team continues to build on a legacy of excellence every day. The vision of the young entrepreneur, arriving in Bradentown a century ago, lives on.