At about lunchtime tomorrow, one of Scotland's most famous stores will close its doors for the final time after 134 years of trading.

It opened with a flourish and a Great Opening Sale on February 3, 1873 and it is closing with an "everything must go" sale.

Although the staff will throw a party after the last customer is ushered out there will be sadness at the end of an era in Aberdeen's history.

Esslemont & Macintosh - E & M - is an Aberdeen institution but in the past few days not only all its stock but also its fittings including a fish tank (with fish), carrier bags, chairs and tables have been sold off.

The department store in Union Street had struggled for survival for several years and in 1997 following a family split Norman Esslemont, great- grandson of the founder and the then managing director, left to pursue other interests.

He opened two shops - for menswear and womenswear - which has ensured that the Esslemont name remains prominent in retail in the city.

Two years ago, amid rumours that E & M was in trouble, it gave up its independence and was sold to the chain Owen and Owen in a move the directors believed would secure its future and that of the staff.

However, the much-needed investment never materialised and in February Owen and Owen called in the receivers.

Once, the store was an integral part of the lives of those who worked for it. They were members of the Esslemont & Macintosh ladies choir or the cricket team and they all gathered at an annual picnic.

"In the earlier days the business was people's lives," said Mr Esslemont. "People who came to E & M never left. A number of staff stayed for their lifetime. We had awards for 50 years' service.

"It was the same with the customers. There was a loyalty in the old days. They were either E & M customers or Watt & Grant customers (the main rival which closed several years ago).

"They went there for all their clothing and didn't often shop around even up to the 1960s when things started to change."

The store, originally in Broad Street, was founded by Peter Esslemont and William Macintosh, until then rivals, who saw the opportunity for prosperity by joining forces and formed a partnership with a joint capital of £3000.

The Macintosh connection ended with the death of William in 1913 and E&M moved into its present site at 26-38 Union Street in the 1920s.

Norman Esslemont joined the family business in 1966 after studying languages at Aberdeen University and learning the basics of the trade in Brown Muffs department store in Bradford and Simpsons in Piccadilly.

He then rose through the ranks from the menswear section to buyer and eventually managing director for a decade before the family split.

"I left the business and kept the family name going," he said. Things have changed in retail and department stores have been more challenging but some continue to survive. The recent owners do not seem to have invested sufficiently in the business to move it forward.

"It is a great loss to Aberdeen because it is part of the city's history but fortunately at least half of the name lives on.

"My great-grandfather started his business in 1858 and then merged with William MacIntosh in 1863 so we will be celebrating the 150th anniversary of continuous trading next year."

Although his son Mark is working alongside him, he dismisses the possibility of emulating his great-grandfather by once again creating a department store. "I don't think so," he said. "But I think there is definitely a niche for the smaller shop."