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A store of nostalgia
MOST of us know Robinsons as the department store previously at Centrepoint and now at The Heeren. But Singapore's second oldest department store has a longer history than that. Originally known as Spicer and Robinson, the company was established in 1858 by Philip Robinson and James Gaborian Spicer. For the record, John Little was started in 1842, before it was bought by Robinsons.
In its early days, the department store was located at Commercial Square, now known as Raffles Place. During World War II, it was hit by bombs, but the store resumed operations the next day. It was the first air-conditioned store in Asia, the first department store to offer in-house tailoring, and the first store in Asia to stock a wide range of premium musical instruments.
The building was destroyed in a fire in 1972, and Robinsons then moved to the former Specialists' Centre, before going to Centrepoint, and then to The Heeren. It has two other stores: at Raffles City and JEM.
These little historical nuggets are now highlighted in its newly opened Heritage Shop, located on the fifth floor of Robinsons The Heeren store.
Christophe Cann, managing director of Robinsons Group, came up with the idea last year. Instead of merely having a gift shop to draw in the tourist crowd, the merchandising team developed it into a heritage store, to play on the brand's rich history.
About 688 square feet of retail space had to make way to set up the Heritage Shop, which James Chua, Robinsons' assistant general manager of merchandising says is "an enhancement of the Robinsons brand".
The story of Robinsons is displayed on panels around the Heritage Shop with plenty of archival pictures, such as one showing children surrounding Santa Claus, or another showing models in a fashion show held in the store. Another panel shows famous folks who have shopped at the store including Prince Philip and Margaret Thatcher.
When Robinsons first opened, it was popular with the European crowd, and over the years, Singaporeans shopped there as well.
On display in the store is an array of merchandise that were once sold at the store. Some of the items were donated by the public, while others are on loan. "Between June and July, we ran a curation drive, asking people to contribute keepsake items," says Mr Chua.
Some items that were contributed still had price tags on them. The displayed items include an exquisite Wedgewood tea service set, a set of heated hair rollers, and even a Raleigh bicycle, which was what Robinsons was known for in the past.
The Heritage Shop is more than just a mini museum of sorts. There is also the shopping element. "We do want shoppers to bring home a piece of Robinsons' history," says Mr Chua.
Its Collection De La Maison range of products takes inspiration from Robinsons' very first flagship store at Raffles Place. Mr Chua worked with an illustrator to recreate the facade of its store, and this illustration can be found on its range of Bone China collection, and other products such as tote bags and umbrellas.
Those who have shopped at the first Robinsons store may remember seeing a sculpture of the Greek god Hermes on the roof. A side plate in the collection features Hermes on it.
"We have plans to increase the range of products that features Robinsons' heritage, but each item must be functional," says Mr Chua. Prices range from S$25 for a side plate to S$59 for a sugar bowl.
The Heritage Store also carries a range of Museum Label merchandise from the National Heritage Board. These include tote bags and magnets with Peranakan or Indian prints on them.
Mr Chua believes the Heritage Shop will be a hit with both foreign and local shoppers. "Tourists will be able to find souvenirs to bring home, while our long-time customers will be able to take home a piece of heritage with them."