End of an era as new owner confirmed for JD Hunter supermarket after 99 years trading
New owner has five similar sized stores in South Africa and says he is 'honoured' to take on Hunter family business
The family-owned business of JD Hunter and Co is being acquired by Dermott McConnell, in partnership with the Henderson Group, the family owned chain based at Mallusk.
It comes after confirmation owner, Richard Hunter, is to retire.
The news was confirmed to staff in a letter on Monday.
Staff were informed that the move would promise an “exciting future” for the business.
The supermarket has been in the Hunter family in Markethill since 1920.
Mr McConnell, originally from East Belfast and with links to Kilkeel, has 35 years of retailing experience in South Africa. He is the owner of five ‘Pick ‘n’ Pay’ supermarkets and it returning to his native Northern Ireland.
Current and future management have reassured that all staff will be retained and the company will also continue to be known as J D Hunter and Co.
In the letter to staff, owners Richard and Alison Hunter said: “It is a pleasure to be handing over control to Dermot and we are sure that he will soon come to have the same passion for the Markethill community as we do.
“Continued support of local suppliers and produce will be central to his approach.
“We will miss working in this great community but look forward to supporting the next phase of the J D Hunter and Co story.
“Our whole family wish Dermott and his wife Lorna continued success with the business.
“Our particular thanks go to staff and work colleagues, past and present, who have contributed massively to our success over the past 99 years.”
Mr McConnell, meanwhile, said he was “honoured” to be taking on the name and looked forward to building on what local people had come to expect from the store.
He said: “I will bring the best of my experience from owning and operating five similar sized stores just outside Durban in South Africa and I am confident that J D Hunter will continue to grow and prosper with the support of a fantastic store team and the people of Markethill and the surrounding area.”
Henderson Group chief financial officer Roy Whitten said they were “delighted” to be involved in the aquisition.
He added: “The Hunter family have built a fantastic community business and being family run, the Group admires the ideals and ethos that have already been established throughout the business, the staff and wider community.
“This reflects the ethos of the Henderson Group of companies.
“Dermott is a retailer with extensive experience and together with his enthusiasm and community spirit, I am confident the J D Hunter brand will continue to grow and prosper.”
The news will come as a shock to locals.
One resident of Markethill and long time regular shopper told Armagh I : “I will be so sad to see Richard leave. I was always struck by how humble and down to earth he was, always a visual presence on the shop floor.”
Mr McConnell is hoping to meet locals and get acquainted with the community when he hosts a charity coffee morning for Cancer Fund for Child on Saturday, March 23, and all are invited.