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 (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: 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.
Text: Straits Times