// Rutherfords department store in Morpeth, Northumberland, sold after 173 years of family ownership
// New owner is Chris Mitchell, who took over as general manager two years ago
// Richard Rutherford, the fifth generation of the family to run the store, has announced his retirement
A historic Northumberland department store has ended its run of being owned by the same family for 173 years after its general manager bought the retailer for an undisclosed sum.
Rutherfords of Morpeth’s sale came after Richard Rutherford, the fifth generation of the family to run the store in Bridge Street, Morpeth, announced his retirement earlier this year.
The department store has now been bought by general manager Chris Mitchell, who took over the day-to-day running of Rutherfords two years ago when Rutherford himself took a backseat.
The private sale also sees the resignations of Rutherford’s mother Audrey, his sister Anne Petrie and finance director Seymour Jobling as directors.
The store will retain its name and its 40 employees have been told they will keep their jobs under Mitchell’s new ownership.
Since beginning life as a tiny draper’s shop in 1846, Rutherfords has long been one of the familiar names on Morpeth’s high street.
The store was founded by George Rutherford, who broke with family tradition by giving up on sheep farming to enter the world of retail.
Now history has repeated itself as Mitchell chose to take the reins at Rutherfords instead of following his father and grandfather into his family’s farm in Meldon, near Morpeth.
Mitchell’s mother, Nicola Robson, has also been part of Rutherfords’ office team for 10 years.
“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,” Mitchell said.
“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.
“I have had the opportunity to play a key role in the evolution of the department store and embrace new trends.
“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.”
He 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.”
Rutherford has worked at his family’s eponymous department store for nearly 50 years and took over as managing director when he was 36 after his father, George Rutherford – the great-grandson of the department store’s founder – retired.
Under his leadership, Rutherfords withstood three major recessions, the opening of the Metrocentre in nearby Newcastle, and the demise of nearby mining communities.
Rutherford and his late wife Jane, who passed away in 2015, have been credited with transforming Rutherfords, stocking designer labels and luxurious interiors and homeware that attracted shoppers from all over the north of England.
“Sometimes things can’t stay the same but, in this case, although I will be retiring due to the fact there is no family to carry on, the business itself will continue,” Rutherford said.
“Over the past seven years I’ve had the pleasure of working with Chris who has brought a new energy and vision to the company.
“For the past two years he has run it as my chief executive.
“Even though we have had interest in the business from third parties I could not have wished for a better outcome for the staff and for Morpeth.
“It is like passing it over to my own son.”