Inside Sunderland's oldest shop which manages to sell Swedish goods back to the Swedes

Reynolds’ Outdoor Centre is Sunderland’s oldest shop, founded in Crowtree Road in 1860.

Saturday, 19th October 2019, 8:00 am

In the same year Charles Dickens published Great Expectations, while Abraham Lincoln won the US presidential election, Sunderland’s oldest shop opened on Crowtree Road.

A fifth generation of the Reynolds family now runs the shop, but apart from the family, it’s a very different enterprise to 159 years ago.

When it was established by George Reynolds and his wife Mary Jane, great-great grandparents of present owner Anthony Reynolds, it was actually a pawn shop and was still a pawn shop in 1909.

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The fourth and fifth generations to run the business; Peter Reynolds and his son Anthony.
The fourth and fifth generations to run the business; Peter Reynolds and his son Anthony.

A huge picture of the couple, taken in about 1880 with their son Thomas outside the old shop, hangs behind the counter in the current premises in Derwent Street.

The business eventually moved into industrial clothing and tools. Anthony’s dad Peter, now 82 and still involved with the business, changed all that. He joined in 1960 after National Service.

In that same centenary year, the shop relocated to Derwent Street after compulsory purchases of properties on Crowtree Road.

Peter said: “I kind of invented the outdoor activities side. It was all industrial before then when the idea was to sell government surplus clothing.

This photograph of the original Crowtree Road shop was taken in about 1880. It shows founder George Reynolds (centre), his wife Mary Jane and their son Thomas.

“It was good quality clothing for the heavy industries; the shipbuilding and the pits.

“When I came in, within five years industry was suffering. I’d been in the army and I knew a bit about outdoor activities so I developed that to move towards skiiing, climbing and camping.”

Reynolds now sells everything for the outdoors life, right down to the Kendal Mint Cake.

Peter added: “The shop didn’t change overnight, it happened over a period of 10 years. In 1960 we had a big tool and clothing trade, all for industry.

Anthony Reynolds, centre with staff Hannah Humes and Ben Bewick at Reynolds Outdoor Centre, Derwent Street, Sunderland's oldest business established 1860.

“We were called ‘army stores’, but it was nothing to do with the army, officially it was called ‘government surplus clothing’.

“In those days the railways, the buses and other industries weren’t private enterprise like now. The miners had to buy their own picks and we sold them. Tradesmen had to buy their own hand tools.”

Anthony, 54, came into the business in 2007 having previously been a civil engineer. He has helped see the business move with the times. It recently took over Dr Funkenstein, the fancy dress shop next door.

He said: “We do ski suit hire as well and work with a lot of schools.

Reynolds Outdoor Centre, Derwent Street, Sunderland's oldest retailer, established 1860.

“There’s only a couple of shops in the North East that provide a specialist service for skiing. If you spend a lot of money on a pair of ski boots you need to know that they’re right.”

Anthony added: “We’ve been concentrating on the Fjällräven stuff. It’s a Swedish brand and people search for it online. We actually sell more of it back to Scandanavia than we do in the UK. With the current exchange rate it’s cheaper for them to buy from us than in Sweden!”

The fourth and fifth generations to run the business; Peter Reynolds and his son Anthony.