Robinson's Department Store, regarded as the grand old dame of Singapore’s department stores, was established on 1 February 1858 by Philip Robinson, an English merchant, and James Gaborian Spicer, a former keeper at the Singapore gaol.
Robinson arrived in Singapore from Melbourne, Australia, in 1857 and started out as a bookkeeper with Cursetjee and Company. On 1 February the following year, Robinson entered into a partnership with Spicer and began a merchandise business under the name of Spicer and Robinson. The business started off as a “family warehouse” at No. 9 & 10 Commercial Square (now known as Raffles Place) and sold foodstuffs such as teas, rice, sugars, oatmeal, biscuits, crackers, cheese, preserved meats and millinery.
When the partnership between Robinson and Spicer dissolved on 5 October 1859, Robinson brought in a new business partner, George Rappa, and continued the business under the name Robinson and Company. The business soon thrived and counted among its customers the Malay rulers of the Malay Archipelago and King Mongkut of Siam.
When Robinson died in March 1886, his son Stamford Raffles Robinson took over the running of the company. In 1891, the department store moved into a new two-storey godown at 26 and 27 Raffles Place. The younger Robinson proved to be an adept merchant like his father. With the assistance of his business partner A. W. Bean, the company prospered and was registered as a limited liability company in 1920. In 1941, the department store moved to larger premises at Raffles Chambers on the opposite side of Raffles Place. The opening of the new store ushered in a new level of retail experience for shoppers with its air-conditioned café, hairdressing salons and a wide selection of merchandise, including men and women’s wear, leather goods, confectionery and silverware. In 1955, it became the first department store in the Far East to be fully air-conditioned.
On 21 November 1972, the department store building at Raffles Place was gutted in a tragic outbreak of fire that left nine people dead. In December the following month, Robinson's opened at the Specialists Shopping Centre on Orchard Road where it remained for 11 years. In June 1983, Robinson's main store opened at the Centrepoint shopping mall where it remained for 31 years until its closure in May 2014. Robinsons Orchard, the latest flagship store, opened at the former The Heeren mall in November 2013. Robinsons has three other stores in Singapore, which are located in Raffles City Shopping Centre, Jem (a suburban shopping mall at Jurong), and The Heeren respectively. It also has a store at The Gardens at Mid Valley City mall in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
1. Tay, M. (2008, May 31). Robinsons: Grand old dame still keeping up to date. The Straits Times, p. S4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Notice. (1858, February 20). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Buckley, C. B. (1984). An anecdotal history of old times in Singapore (v. 2, p. 672). Singapore: Oxford University Press. Call no.: RSING 959.57 BUC. Lim, J. (2004). Assumptions and evidence: The case of Philip Robinson (1830–1886). Brethren Historians and Archivists Network Review, 3(1), pp. 27, 34. Retrieved November 27, 2013, from The Brethren Historians and Archivists Network website: http://www.brethrenhistory.org/qwicsitePro/php/docsview.php?docid=412
3. Buckley, 1984, p. 672; Obituary. (1886, March 20). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. The Straits Times, 20 Feb 1958, p. 2.
5. Robinson’s & Company. (1958). The story of Robinson’s, 1858–1958 (pp. 1–2). Singapore: s.n. Call no.: RCLOS 338.065 ROB.
6. Notice. (1859, November 24). Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser, p. 1. Microfilm no.: NL2206.
7. Robinson’s & Company, 1958, p. 5.
8. The Straits Times, 20 Mar 1886, p. 2; Robinson’s & Company, 1958, p. 6.
9. Messrs. Robinson & Co.’s new premises. (1891, October 21). The Straits Times Weekly Issue, p. 3; Death of Mr S. R. Robinson: Son of firm’s founder. (1936, December 1). The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Robinson’s & Company, 1958, p. 11; Heathcott, M. (1941, September 30). In the “new family warehouse”. The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 7; Robinsons to occupy new premises. (1940, May 20). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Robinson’s & Company, 1958, p. 13.
12. Kwee, M. (1972, December 12). Robinson’s plans to rebuild at fire site. The Straits Times, p. 15. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Singapore. Commission of Inquiry into the Robinson’s fire. (1973). Report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Robinson’s Fire, 1973 (p. 3). Singapore: Singapore National Printers. Call no.: RSING 614.84 SIN.
14. The Straits Times, 12 Dec 1972, p. 15; Robinson’s profits dip. (1973, November 5). The Straits Times, p. 11; Demolition begins at Robinsons today. (1972, November 27). The Straits Times, p. 15; Teo, G. (2003, September 17). It’s a store and more. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Rebirth of Robinson’s. (1983, June 3). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Chung, G. (2014, June 14). Robinsons MD quits months after grand Orchard opening. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
16. Yeoh, W. T. (2013, November 18). Is Orchard Road fashionable? The New Paper. Retrieved from Factiva.
17. Robinsons. (n.d.). Store locator. Retrieved August 28, 2014, from Robinsons website: http://www.robinsons.com.sg/store-locator/
The information in this article is valid as at 2014 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.