162-Year-Old Robinsons To Close Last Two Stores In Singapore

Robinsons — owned by Dubai-based Al-Futtaim Group — announced on Friday (Oct 30) that it will be closing its last two stores in The Heeren and Raffles City Shopping Centre in the next few weeks.

The retailer said the decision came about because of its “inability to continue operations due to weak demand at department stores”.

Mr Danny Lim, Robinsons’ senior general manager, said in a press statement: “We regret this outcome today. Despite recent challenges in the industry, the Robinsons team continued to pursue the success of the brand.

“However, the changing consumer landscape makes it difficult for us to succeed over the long term and the Covid-19 pandemic has further exacerbated our challenges.”

While the recent news of its closure came as a surprise to many Singaporeans, Robinsons had already shut down its outlet at Jem earlier this year, as well as its high-end concept store at Marina Bay Sands in 2013 (two years after it opened in 2011), citing the challenging retail environment.

Robinsons holds many fond memories for Singaporeans because it was one of the oldest shopping institutions in Singapore.

Kenneth Goh, editor-in-chief of Harper’s BAZAAR Singapore says: “I was never a Centrepoint kid — I didn’t have the privilege to spend my growing teenage years in Singapore. But Robs (short form for Robinson’s) was a family favourite for Christmas to see the ostentatious light ups and windows, buy all our household goodies, new curtains, crockery and sheets on a yearly basis when I came back to spend time with granny. The Christmas decoration floor was always my favourite – surrounded by songs from Bing Crosby, gold tinsel and fairy lights at every corner of the store. I wouldn’t want to go back now to see empty shelves and hordes sniffing out a cheap bargain. To me the halcyon days of Robinsons from my teenage years will always live on in my memory.”

Robinsons Building at Raffles Place (Photo: ST Archive)

Established in 1858 by Australian merchant Philip Robinson, and James Gaborian Spicer, the two men started its business as Spicer and Robinson, as a “family warehouse” at No 9 & 10 Commercial Square (now known as Raffles Place), according to according sources in the National Library Board (NLB) digital library. 

In 1859, the duo expanded the offerings from groceries to include millinery and dressmaking, and Robinson changed the name to Robinson and Company when Spicer left the partnership. By 1881, it became the preferred store for European expatriates in Singapore.

During World War II in 1941, the outlet at Raffles Chambers was hit twice by Japanese bombs but reopened for business the next day. Unfortunately the retailer had to close for business between 1942 and 1945, and resumed trading again in 1946.

In 1955, Robinsons became the first departmental store in Singapore to be fully conditioned.

The unfortunate fire at Robinsons Building at Raffles City (Photo: ST Archive)

When a fire broke out at its Raffles Place outlet in 1972 (due to a short circuit on the ground floor), it was reported that flames could be seen from as far as Jurong. The unfortunate event killed nine people and S$21 million worth of propery, and the store relocated to Centrepoint in 1973 where it stayed at until 2014 before it moved to its current location at The Heeren.