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

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 Singapore’s oldest home-grown department store.

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 company 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 and the company is renamed Robinson & Co. Philip Robinson also brings in a new business partner, George Rappa Jr.

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: Robinsons takes over John Little.

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. It 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.

2013: Robinsons moves to a new S$40 million outlet at 260 Orchard Road (formerly 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: Metro announces that it will replace the former Robinsons store at The Centrepoint as the anchor tenant and will open the store in the fourth quarter of the year. 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.  

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