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Arts & Culture

Historic Northumberland department store changes hands after 173 years

A Northumberland department store is under new ownership for the first time in its 173-year history after the general manager bought the business for an undisclosed sum.

The sale of Rutherfords of Morpeth, which has been run by the same family since it first opened in 1846, was agreed back in June after owner Richard Rutherford — the great-great grandson of the original owner — made the decision to retire.

The department store has now been bought by general manager Chris Mitchell, who took over the day-to-day management of Rutherfords two years ago, allowing Mr Rutherford to gradually step back from the business.

The store was originally founded as a draper’s shop, and over the years it has grown into a popular and successful department store which has been described as “part of the fabric” of Morpeth’s high street.

Commenting on his relationship with the former owners, Mr Mitchell said: “Richard has been an incredible mentor to me over the seven years I have been at Rutherfords, and I am excited about putting into practice everything he has taught me.

“He has instilled his retail ethos and values into me, and I want to build on those for the future as the world of retail continues to change dramatically.

“The challenge as we move forwards is to keep the traditional feel of the department store that has been part of the fabric of Morpeth for many decades, while ensuring it continues to evolve and appeal to a wider market.”

The store will continue to operate under the Rutherford name, and all 40 employees have been given assurances that they will keep their jobs under Mitchell’s new ownership.

Mr Mitchell added: “There’s a loyal team of staff involved in buying decisions for the store. They will be part of the next generation taking things forward so it will be business as usual.”

The store was originally founded by George Rutherford, who chose to start a retail business rather than continue the family trade of sheep farming.

Coincidentally, new owner Mr Mitchell has followed in his footsteps, choosing to take over Rutherfords instead of taking the reins at his family’s farm in Meldon, near Morpeth.