Talking of the best... Morton Middleditch, who retires this year, received a standing ovation at the conference

While the focus of this year’s Spar conference was very much on the future, there was also time for a trip down memory lane as delegates celebrated the career of chairman Morton Middleditch, who is retiring after 35 years with the group.
After delivering the closing address at the conference, he was given a huge standing ovation - a sign of his popularity and respect among Spar members. “I am ready to leave Spar. There is a good team of people there who will be better off without me hanging around looking over their shoulders,” says Middleditch. “And it is a nice way to retire. I have lots of friends within Spar and I am not overstaying my welcome. But I am going to miss it.”
Independent retailers have a lot to thank Middleditch for - if only because he played such a pivotal role in the campaign to keep the multiples shut on Sundays.
Were it not for a handful of votes by MPs, the campaigners would have kept the big boys shut altogether. And while Middleditch says he took that defeat badly at the time, he now accepts that limiting the opening hours of big retailers has proved vital to the independent sector. But he warns the sector not to be complacent: “We will have to fight hard to retain this because in five years’ time it will have gone unless we are very careful.”
Middleditch has enjoyed playing on the industry stage and has been a tireless campaigner for the independent sector. He has held leading roles with the Association of Convenience Stores and the British Retail Consortium.
But he still, probably rightly, sees his work on Sunday trading as the thing he is most proud of.
Nevertheless, he should also be proud of the fact that the Spar business is today in good shape.
Don’t forget, that when he took over as MD of Spar in 1998, it had lost its way after four difficult years following the retirement of John Irish.
He says: “My job was to get us believing in ourselves again.”
Judging by the positive mood of the conference, that has definitely been achieved. And Middleditch is full of optimism about the future for Spar - so long, he says, as all members of its family do embrace the changes that will be vital if it is to continue prospering.