15 Defunct Department Stores We Miss Most

Updated: Dec 1, 2020

As we bid adieu to longtime retail giant Robinsons, let's reminisce a wee bit about those once-familiar Japanese, French, Hong Kong alongside local department stores that have since vanished entirely in Singapore:

1. Robinsons (1858-2020)

Being in the business for a staggering 162 years, Robinsons began as a small shop at Raffles Place (formerly Commercial Square), named Spicier and Robinson. Its founders James Gaborian Spicer and Philip Robinson sold everything from European groceries, spices to women’s apparel.

In 1859, the business was renamed Robinsons and Company after James Spicer exited the partnership. By the early 20th century, Robinsons had become the leading upmarket department store in Singapore which catered specially to the European expatriate community.

History-wise, Robinsons and its iconic department store at Raffles Place survived the Great Depression (posting its first ever losses of about $233,000 in 1932), Second World War bombings, the Japanese Occupation (it was closed between 1942 and 1945) and a disastrous fire in 1972 that killed nine people and destroyed a million dollars’ worth of goods.

Robinsons picked itself up after the disaster, expanding to other parts of Singapore. It subsequently opened stores at the Specialist’s Shopping Centre (1972), Clifford Centre (1977-1983) and The Centrepoint (1983-2014). After the company was sold to the Al Futtaim Group, another three stores were opened – Raffles City (2001-2020), JEM (2013-2020) and The Heeren (2013-2020). But they all closed in 2020 due to abysmal market conditions besetting brick and mortar retail, challenges from eCommerce as well as the ravaging Covid-19 pandemic.

Memorable Slogan: “Robinsons Sale – The sale worth waiting for

2. John Little (1842-2016)

Before Robinsons, John Little was Singapore’s oldest department store. It was started in 1842 when John Martin Little opened his shop at Raffles Place (formerly Commercial Square), selling wine, textile, furniture, stationery and clocks. In 1955, John Little was acquired by Robinsons.

John Little left its iconic Raffles Place store in the sixties, and over the years, went on to open stores at malls in the downtown areas, such as Plaza Singapura and Specialist’s Shopping Centre. It was revamped with a new logo “JL” in the late eighties in order to woo the younger crowds.

John Little expanded into the new towns and suburban areas in the early 2000s - opening outlets at Parkway Parade, Jurong Point, Northpoint and Compass Point. But by 2015, Robinsons’ new owner Al Futtaim Group decided to close all the John Little department stores in Singapore, with the last one at Plaza Singapura having shuttered in November 2016.

3. Yaohan (1974-1997)

Japanese department store Yaohan entered the Singapore market in 1974 with its first branch at Plaza Singapura. Offering a wide range of merchandise, Yaohan also boasted a supermarket, bakery and even a child play centre, a fresh concept that attracted many shoppers in the seventies and eighties.

At its peak, Yaohan had stores at Katong (1977-1983), Thomson Plaza (1979-1998), Bukit Timah (1981-1996), Jurong (1983-1997) and Parkway Parade (1983-1997). But by the late eighties, it faced challenges from other Japanese department stores such as Daimaru. The new mega retail institution Takashimaya which opened at Ngee Ann City in 1993 also brought about changes in consumers’ shopping habits.