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Image courtesy David Smith A 1950s newspaper advertisement for Belle’s, “The Shop of Youthful Fashions,” showed the modern exterior of the store.

Editor’s Note: This is the 337th in a series of articles recalling vanished Huntington scenes.

HUNTINGTON — From the day it opened its doors in the 1930s, Belle’s, the popular women’s fashion store at 313 9th St., described itself as “The Shop of Youthful Fashions.” The store was named for Belle Solof, who opened it. She later sold it to Maurice Rosen.

Born in 1896, Rosen was a native of Philadelphia. When he came to Huntington, he was first employed at the old First Huntington National Bank and later at the Huntington Dry Goods Co. (later renamed the Huntington Store).

When Rosen died in 1966, it was noted he had been associated with Belle’s for 34 years, first as general manager and later as owner.

Later, that pattern repeated itself when the late Ralph Nelson worked as the manager of Belle’s for 38 years until 1990 when he purchased the store as a co-owner with Connie Stanley. With Nelson at the helm, Belle’s sponsored Miss West Virginia in the annual Miss America Pageants in the 1950s and 1960s.

Nelson and Stanley were vocal critics when the city turned 9th Street between 3rd and 5th avenues into a two-block pedestrian plaza. They joined other 9th Street merchants in complaining that, with car and truck traffic banned from the plaza, customers couldn’t get to their stores.

They also complained that the plaza’s fountains attracted vagrants, panhandlers and late-night drinkers. In a 1993 interview, Nelson said the plaza “turns into a real party area just after 2 a.m. when the bars let out. People are all over the plaza.” The complaining merchants got their way in 1996 when the fountains were demolished and the plaza was reopened to vehicular traffic.

A fixture in downtown Huntington for decades, Belle’s closed about 20 years ago.

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