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Goodbye Robinsons: 5 interesting facts about one of Singapore's oldest retailers

SINGAPORE — Robinsons announced on Friday (Oct 30) that it will be closing its two remaining stores at The Heeren and Raffles City Shopping Centre, as well as its outlets in Malaysia.

Retailer Robinsons, which started out as a family warehouse, has announced that it will close its business for good.

Retailer Robinsons, which started out as a family warehouse, has announced that it will close its business for good.

SINGAPORE — Robinsons announced on Friday (Oct 30) that it will be closing its two remaining stores at The Heeren and Raffles City Shopping Centre, as well as its outlets in Malaysia. 

The department store said that the decision came due to the significant weakening of demand for large-scale department store concepts, with reports showing a 32 per cent drop in department store sales in July.

As the shutters fall on the 162-year-old company, TODAY takes a look back at some interesting facts about one of Singapore's oldest retailers.

1. HUMBLE BEGINNINGS

The store was originally known as Spicer and Robinson after its two founders: Englishman Philip Robinson and a former keeper at the Singapore jail, James Gaborian Spicer, based on an article from the National Library Board’s e-Resources. It started out as a family warehouse at Number 9 and 10 Commercial Square (present-day Raffles Place), selling food items such as tea, rice, sugar, oatmeal, biscuits, crackers, cheese, preserved meats and women’s hats.

2. COUNTED ROYALTY AS CUSTOMERS

Business quickly began to thrive as the store gained popularity. It drew many well-heeled customers including rulers of the Malay Archipaelago and King Mongkut of Siam (present-day Thailand), NLB's database stated.

3. SURVIVED WWII BOMBS

The store was hit by bombs during World War II on two occasions — with the first happening on Dec 8, 1941 — but operations resumed the very next day, articles from the NLB e-Resources and the Visit Singapore website stated. 

4. FORMER BRITISH HEADQUARTERS

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.

5. TRAGIC FIRE

On Nov 21, 1972, a massive fire resulted in the deaths of nine people and completely destroyed the store, including S$21 million worth of property. The fire was caused by a short circuit on the ground floor of the building.

A new store opened in Specialists’ Shopping Centre on Orchard Road less than a month later, on Dec 11, where it remained for 11 years. All 350 employees were re-absorbed into the company, the store’s general manager RN Marshall said in a report by The Straits Times on Dec 12.

Related topics

robinsons department store history shopping

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