RUTLAND — It is the end of era in the village of Rutland, as one of the Meigs County’s oldest businesses will soon be closing its doors.
It was not an easy decision for owner Jim Birchfield who has owned the business since 1996.
Opened in 1858 as Rathburn’s Department Store, the business eventually became Rutland Department Store Inc., before becoming Rutland Department Store when Birchfield and his family took ownership.
The store was owned and operated by J. N. Rathburn and sons, with locations in Middleport and Rutland.
Birchfield explained that in 1926 there was a fire at the store. Rather than close to rebuild, the business quickly reopened across the street while the current building was constructed. “They never quit working,” said Birchfield.
The business also housed Rathburn Bank at one time, with the bank vault remaining in the building today. The bank was eventually bought out by Pomeroy National Bank.
In the 1940s the Rathburn family sold to O.O. Patterson, Lafe McKnight and Mary Bennie Beard, according to Birchfield. It was then that the business became Rutland Department Store Inc.
On Nov. 9, 1996, Birchfield, along with his sister and brother-in-law, purchased the store. At that time, the name became Rutland Department Store.
Birchfield said he was recently given some documents including receipts from as far back as 1906. At that time items were sold for fractions of a penny, with the business issuing tokens if a half-cent was due back in change since money did not come in that small of increments.
The decision to close has been some time in the making, explained Birchfield. In the past two years, sales at the store have dropped by one-third. While the opening of Family Dollar in Rutland a few months ago has had an impact on business, the decision to close had been coming before that.
“It’s not what it was in the hay day,” said Birchfield.
In 2013 and 2014 the business would gross around $425,000 to $450,000. This year, said Birchfield, they will be lucky to gross $300,000.
Changes in hours as a result of being unable to find employees, as well as changes in the village are a few of the reasons Birchfield cited for the decline.
“We have served the community every way we could,” said Birchfield. From donations to events and organizations to purchasing animals at the fair and selling tickets and passes for local events.
Birchfield is also the owner of the funeral home in Rutland, a business he took over in 1991. He explained that the department store is often a place where families will come to drop of pictures or other items for the services. He said he will maintain the funeral home, but is unsure if the closing of the department store will have an impact on that business.
“I put everything into it to keep it up,” explained Birchfield of the business. “It will be closed by year’s end.”
Asked what he intended to do with the building after closing, Birchfield said he would be willing to sell if anyone was interested, but did not want to rent the space.
Rutland Department Store has been more than just a store on the corner in the community, it has been a gathering place, somewhere for people to come and reminisce about the years gone by and remember coming to the store as a kid, while now bringing their own children along.
Many antiques sit around the store as a reminder of days gone by.
Sara Neal has been a 15-year employee of the store. Neal explained that the store has a variety of items which can often save a person from making a trip into town when they are looking for an item or two.
Neal explained, Rutland Department Store provided those in the area with a one-stop shop for family movie nights, with movie rentals and snacks; quick stops for lunches, with lunch meats and other deli items; and for the do-it-yourself person, a large supply of hardware items.
It is the personal nature of the business, getting to know your customers and helping them to find the items they need, that Birchfield said the store offered that many larger retailers today do not.
Items are being reduced in an effort to sell what remains at the store before closing sometime between Christmas and New Years.
Sarah Hawley is the managing editor of The Daily Sentinel.