J.W. ROBINSON & CO – Los Angeles
James Winchester Robinson opened his first store in 1881 under the banner of The Boston Store. The original store was located at Spring and Temple Streets. In 1914, the name was changed to J.W. Robinson & Company and it moved to a new location at 7th and Grand in a building designed by Noonan and Richards. In 1934 the building was modernized by Edward L. Mayberry. The downtown store had six floors of selling space. On the seventh floor were the restaurants, the beauty salon, and customer service. The women’s rest area and lavatory were reputed to be exquisite.
Robinson’s catered to the carriage trade as did Bullock’s and Coulter’s. The store presented better fashions and offered excellent customer service. For years the store competed well with Bullock’s in the downtown market because it was located west on 7th street in an area attractive to the upper-end customers.
In 1957, the company was acquired by Associated Dry Goods and became their fashion headquarters for the West.
In 1952, the company opened its first branch store in the Beverly Hills market. Robinson’s needed that store to capture the carriage trade: customers that were now shopping at Bullock’s, I. Magnin’s, and Sak’s stores located out on Wilshire and at the specialty shops on Rodeo Drive. Even Coulter’s had closed its downtown store and moved to Wilshire. Later, Robinson’s opened a winter-only store in Palm Springs to serve the customers who wintered there. Other suburban stores opened in Panorama City, Anaheim, Santa Barbara, Glendale, Pasadena, Newport Beach, Cerritos, Woodland Hills and the City of Industry.
In 1986, Associated Dry Goods was acquired by The May Department Stores Company (St. Louis). In 1993, the Robinson’s division of Associated Goods was merged with the May Company Southern California division to form Robinson’s May. This was a difficult marriage as May Company was targeting the moderated market and Robinson’s catered to the carriage trade. In 2005, after the acquisition of The May Company Department Stores by Federated Department Stores, the stores were either renamed Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s or were sold.
What happened???? Although Robinson’s had relatively good positioning in Los Angeles, it relied too long on its one store downtown. It did not have the clout with vendors to develop exclusive relationships. As the customers moved west to Beverly Hills and south to Orange County and when the downtown retail market declined, Robinson’s was slow to expand and gave up market share to Bullock’s, I. Magnin’s, Sak’s, and other retailers. Robinson’s started to rebound when Michael Gould became the CEO, but he did not get full support from the parent, Associated Dry Goods. When it merged with May Company, the company quickly lost the carriage trade customer.
I knew Robinson’s well as a competitor when I worked at Bullock’s. The downtown LA and the Beverly Hills stores were well-maintained and operated at high customer service levels. The management was not known as sophisticated. The management development program was not strong so the company was never able to develop talented merchants. I remember when the Attorney General for California looked into price fixing amongst the Southern California department stores. They found a folder amongst the corporate office files at Robinson’s entitled “Price Fixing Agreements”.
I wish there were postcards showing the interior of this wonderful store. I have only one which shows the women’s restroom. As soon as I locate it I will post it.
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