Robinsons to close stores: Down memory lane with one of S'pore's oldest home-grown department stores

Robinsons is liquidating its two department stores at The Heeren and Raffles City Shopping Centre.
Robinsons is liquidating its two department stores at The Heeren and Raffles City Shopping Centre.PHOTOS: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Robinsons said on Friday (Oct 30) that it is closing its last two department stores at The Heeren and Raffles City Shopping Centre.

We look back on the defining moments of one of Singapore's oldest home-grown department stores.

1858: A new firm, Spicer & Robinson, is founded by Englishman Philip Robinson, then living in Singapore, and James Gaborian Spicer, a former keeper of the Singapore Jail. The “family warehouse” business, mainly selling groceries, is located in Commercial Square, now known as Raffles Place.

1859: The firm expands from mainly selling groceries to millinery and dressmaking. By the end of the year, James Spicer leaves the business. A new business partner, George Rappa Jr, comes on board and the company is renamed Robinson & Co. 

1881: By this time, Robinsons is the preferred store for European expatriates in Singapore.

1891: After moving several times, including to North Bridge Road and Coleman Street, the store returns to its original location in Raffles Place.

1920: Robinson & Co becomes a limited company.

1941: The outlet at Raffles Chambers is hit twice by Japanese bombs during World War II, but reopens the next day.

1942-1945: The firm is closed during the Japanese Occupation.

1946: The department store resumes trade.

1955: It is the first department store in the Far East to be fully air-conditioned.  

1955: Robinsons takes over John Little, previously the oldest department store here started by Scotsman John Martin Little in 1842.

1957: The store undergoes a facelift and is called the "handsomest shop in the Far East".

1958: Robinsons gains the franchise for Marks and Spencer for Singapore.

1972: The store is destroyed by a fire in Raffles Place that kills nine people and wipes out $21 million worth of property. At one point, flames could be seen from as far as Jurong. It is caused by a short circuit on the ground floor of the building. Robinsons relocates to Specialists' Centre in Orchard Road after the fire.

1983: Robinsons becomes the anchor tenant at The Centrepoint.

1990s: Regular warehouse sales during this period tarnish its reputation as an upscale department store.

2001: A new $30 million store, covering 85,000 sq ft, opens at Raffles City in March, targeting trendy, young customers. The Centrepoint outlet gets a brand new look.

2006: OCBC Bank sells 29.9 per cent of its stake in the group to Indonesia's Lippo Group, through Auric Pacific Singapore, for $203 million.

2008: Retail operations are sold for $600 million to the Al-Futtaim Group based in the United Arab Emirates.

2011: Its new owners attempt to go upmarket and open a 20,800 sq ft concept store at The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands.

2013: The concept store was not successful and closes. A heartland outlet is opened at Jem in Jurong East.

Robinsons moves to a new S$40 million outlet at 260 Orchard Road (The Heeren), taking over five floors and the basement. The swanky store, with many new brands, aims to attract a high-end market with its stylish interior and posh atmosphere. Another outlet is opened at Jem in Jurong East.

2014: Robinsons store at The Centrepoint closes and is replaced by Metro as the anchor tenant. Robinsons' managing director Franz Kraatz steps down.

2016: Robinsons launches its website. It also closes the last John Little outlet at Plaza Singapura at the end of 2016.

2017: It expands to the Middle East with a store at Dubai Festival City in Dubai.

2018: A store at Kingdom Centre in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, is opened.

2020: Robinsons closes its store at Jem.