Robinsons Department Store

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 its outlets in Singapore, Malaysia and Dubai in 2020 and 2021 after 163 years. It made a comeback in June 2021 as an online mall.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’s landmark building at Raffles Place was destroyed by a massive fire on 21 November 1972. Nine people were killed, and S$21 million worth of property was destroyed. 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 presence in Raffles Place 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 On 10 June 2021, Robinsons announced that it was returning as an online mall, after it was acquired by Canningvale Australia, a homeware retailer owned and operated by the Prainito family.12


Peter Yew Guan Pak

1. Michelle Tay, “Robinsons: Grand Old Dame Still Keeping Up to Date,” Straits Times, 31 May 2008, 67 (From NewspaperSG); T. F. Tay and W. K. Ng, “End of a S'pore Icon,” Straits Times, 31 October 2020, A4 (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website); Jessie Lim, “Robinsons Clears All Stock, Bows Out with Closure of Raffles City Outlet,” Straits Times, 10 January 2021, 16; Waheed Abbas, “Robinsons at Dubai Festival City Closes Down,” Khaleej Times, 29 March 2021;  Ang Qing, “Robinsons to Reopen as Online Mall on June 24,” Straits Times, 11 June 2021, B5. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website)
2. Ray Tyers and Siow Jin Hua, Ray Tyers’ Singapore: Then & Now (Singapore: Landmark Books, 1993). (Call no. RSING 959.57 TYE-[HIS])
3. Tay, “Grand Old Dame Still Keeping Up to Date.”
4. Tyers and Siow, Ray Tyers’ Singapore.
5. Tung Shi Yun, “Robinsons: Down Memory Lane with Singapore’s Oldest Home-Grown Department Store,” Straits Times, 14 June 2014. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website)
6. David Brazil, Street Smart: Singapore (Singapore: Times Books International, 1991). (Call no. RSING 959.57 BRA-[HIS])
7. “Robinson’s Sixth Store Opening,” Business Times, 15 July 1977, 12. (From NewspaperSG)
8. “Rebirth of Robinson’s,” Straits Times, 3 June 1983, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
9. Cheryl Long, “Metro Will Be New Anchor Tenant at Centrepoint,” Straits Times, 5 March 2014, B10. (From Newslink via NLB’s eResources website)
10. Natasha Ann Zachariah, “Robinsons’ Fancy New Home,” Straits Times, 9 November 2013, 16. (From NewspaperSG) 
11. Tay and Ng, “End of S’pore Icon.”
12. Ang, “Robinsons to Reopen”; “About,” Canningvale, last accessed 5 July 2021.

The information in this article is valid as at July 2021 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.

Stores, Retail--Singapore
Commercial buildings
Trade and industry
Business enterprises--Singapore
Department stores--Singapore
Robinsons (Department store)