IT has been Hexham’s Flagship department store for two centuries.

Robb’s, which was bought out by Dorset-based Beales almost a decade ago, has long been the place to pick up everything from fashions and fragrances, to toys, electronics and food, for local people and visitors alike.

The store has always stood at the heart of Hexham’s retail economy, providing a wealth of jobs for local people throughout the decades.

In its heyday, Robb’s became so popular that another store, with a spectacular glass frontage, was built just outside the town centre at Alemouth Road, which began trading as Tynedale Park in 1989.

Fast forward 30 years and the landscape is considerably different. Tynedale Park is now a Tesco, and the original store on Fore Street was all set to close this Saturday, until a last minute decision to keep it trading.

Hopes are high that the decision to relaunch Beales at the end of the month, following a quickfire refit, will be the start of a bright new era for a business which has endured a turbulent 15-year period.

When Beales secured a £250,000 deal to buy out Robb’s in 2010, it extended the life of a Hexham institution which was in decline.

Five years earlier, Merseyside company Owen Owen had purchased the Fore Street store from previous owners Merchant Retail, along with the Joplings store in Sunderland, for a combined price of £8m.

In 2006, it was sold to the Buccleuch Group for £7.7m, under a lease-back scheme. But it wasn’t long before Owen Owen went into administration, placing 129 Hexham jobs at risk.

In a further turn of complicated events, Owen Owen proprietor David Thompson established Vergo Retail, and purchased the Hexham business in 2007, while the Buccleuch Group continued as landlord.

In May 2008, the Buccleugh Group announced plans to demolish the Fore Street building, and replace it with a £40m high street development. But it didn’t materialise, and Beales moved in to purchase Robb’s in 2010, adding it to their chain of stores across the UK.

In doing so, the company saved more than 100 jobs, and its chief executive Tony Brown spoke positively about improving the offering at the outlet, which he described as vital to the town’s economy.

Beales went on to endure its own challenging period, and Hexham survived a cull of a third of Beales stores nationwide. However, the chain negotiated a company voluntary arrangement (CVA) with the landlord in 2015 to reduce its outgoings.

There was new hope on the horizon in November 2016, when a newly-appointed management team at the Hexham store unveiled substantial investment plans, which provisionally included an in-store prosecco bar. But in April of this year, Mr Brown announced plans to close the store, citing declining trade and increasing business rates.

It’s testament to Beales that Hexham’s historic department store has lasted so long in austere times, during an era of internet shopping and limitless consumer choice.

It’s a far cry from 1818, when William Robb opened the first Robb’s shop in Hexham. It moved to the west side of Fore Street in 1890, and to the present site in 1928.

Derek Robb, the fifth generation of the family, oversaw the creation of Tynedale Park, which employed 200 people, offered a garden centre and cafe, and attracted visitors from far and wide. It is hoped a bright future lies ahead for the Fore Street store.