Robinsons Department Store
by Pak, Peter Yew Guan
Robinsons Department Store was founded in 1858 in Singapore by Philip Robinson and James Gaborian Spicer. Regarded as the grande dame of Singapore’s department stores, Robinsons was a shopping destination much loved by Singaporeans. However, following several years of declining sales leading it to go into the red, it closed in 2020 after 162 years.1
The company behind Robinsons was originally known as Spicer and Robinson. It was established in 1858 by Philip Robinson, an immigrant from Australia, and James Gaborian Spicer, a former jailkeeper in Singapore.2 The two men operated the business as a “family warehouse” at Commercial Square (today’s Raffles Place).3 The company was renamed Robinson and Company in October 1859 when Spicer left the business and a new partner, George Rappa, was brought in. By 1881, Robinsons had become a popular haunt for the European community. It relocated several times before moving back to Raffles Place in 1891.4
The store was hit by bombs twice during the Japanese invasion and was closed during the Japanese Occupation (1942–45). When the British returned to Singapore in 1945, the Robinsons building served as the headquarters of the British Navy, Army and Air Force Institute and the Entertainments National Service Association – the entertainment and service organisations of the Allied forces. Resuming trade in 1946, Robinsons took over another department store, John Little, in 1955. The former underwent a refurbishment in 1957, which earned it the compliment of being the “handsomest shop in the Far East”.5
Robinsons’ landmark building at Raffles Place was destroyed by a massive fire on 21 November 1972. In all, nine people were killed and S$21 million worth of property went up in flames. The fire was caused by a short circuit on the ground floor of the building.6
Opening and closure of stores
After the fire, a new Robinsons store opened on 11 December 1972 in Specialists’ Shopping Centre along Orchard Road. The retailer also re-established its Raffles Place presence with a branch in Clifford Centre in July 1977.7 By June 1983, the company had moved its main Orchard Road store to The Centrepoint, closing its branch at Clifford Centre in November of that year.8 After 31 years as The Centrepoint’s anchor tenant, Robinsons closed in March 2014 at the end of its lease.9
Known as Robinsons Group of Companies and part of the Al-Futtaim Group, the retailer opened its new flagship store in The Heeren along Orchard Road in November 2013.10 However after six years of declining sales, it sank into the red and Al-Futtaim Group announced the voluntary liquidation of Robinsons to pay creditors on 30 October 2020.11
Peter Yew Guan Pak
1. Tay, M. (2008, May 31). Robinsons: Grand old dame still keeping up to date. The Straits Times, p. 67. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Tay, T.F. & Ng, W.K. (2020, October 31). End of a S'pore icon. The Straits Times, p. A4.
2. Tyers, R. (1993). Ray Tyers’ Singapore: Then & now. Singapore: Landmark Books. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 TYE-[HIS])
3. Tay, M. (2008, May 31). Robinsons: Grand old dame still keeping up to date. The Straits Times, p. 67. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Tyers, R. (1993). Ray Tyers’ Singapore: Then & now. Singapore: Landmark Books. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 TYE-[HIS])
5. Tung, S. Y. (2014, June 14). Robinsons: Down memory lane with Singapore’s oldest home-grown department store. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
6. Brazil, D. (1991). Street smart: Singapore. Singapore: Times Books International. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 BRA-[HIS])
7. Robinson’s sixth store opening. (1977, July 15). The Business Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Rebirth of Robinson’s. (1983, June 3). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Robinsons. (2016). A year in review: 2014. Retrieved 2016, June 21 from Robinsons website: http://www.robinsons.com.sg/a-year-in-review-2014/
10. Zachariah, N. A. (2013, November 9). Robinsons’ fancy new home. The Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. T.F. & Ng, W.K. (2020, October 31). End of a S'pore icon. The Straits Times, p. A4.
The information in this article is valid as at November 2020 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.
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Robinsons (Department store)