The Little Institution Bows Out

The Little Institution Bows Out

The last brick and mortar store of a 171-year-old shopping institution will roll its shutters permanently at the turn of 2016 and 2017. The John Little store at Plaza Singapura, the last-standing of the once popular department chain, will shut – following the closure of the Marina Square and Tiong Bahru outlets in 2015 and the Jurong Point outlet in mid-2016.

John Little is itself a significant deal in the history books. It is the oldest department store in Singapore and traces its beginnings to 1845 as a store named Little, Cursetjee & Co in the heart of Commercial Square (today’s Raffles Place). The founder, a young Scotsman named John Martin Little, learned the ropes of a retail business from helping out at his relative’s store in 1842. Three years later, he set up Little, Cursetjee & Co with a businessman named Cursetjee Frommurze.

The store was renamed John Little & Co after Frommurze left the partnership in 1853. The business gained traction and quickly expanded to several more branches in Malaya.

The Chartered Bank, John Little & Co and Robinsons in the mid 20th century. Image Source: National Museum of Singapore.

The Chartered Bank, John Little & Co and Robinsons in the mid 20th century. Image Source: National Museum of Singapore.

The John Little building in the early 20th century. The building was demolished in 1973. The Singapore Land Tower sits near the site of the former John Little building today. Image Source: National Museum of Singapore.

The John Little building in the early 20th century. The building was demolished in 1973. The Singapore Land Tower sits near the site of the former John Little building today. Image Source: National Museum of Singapore.

Replicas of the John Little building remain near the original site in Raffles Place. The two exit buildings at the Raffles Place MRT Station facing the Raffles Gardens are in fact miniature replicas of the original John Little.

Replicas of the John Little building remain near the original site in Raffles Place. The two exit buildings at the Raffles Place MRT Station facing the Raffles Gardens are in fact miniature replicas of the original John Little.

The John Little building saw adaptive uses. During the Japanese Occupation, it was transformed to a Japanese department store, Daimaru. The building housed offices after John Little moved out in 1960. From 1964 to 1970 it even housed the Singapore Tourist Promotion Board. The building was damaged in a fire in 1972, the same year the company opened its flagship store in Specialists’ Shopping Centre. It was demolished a year later and the 190-metre-tall Shell Tower (Singapore Land Tower today) was built near its site in 1980.

Robinsons Group, which manages the John Little brand, announced on 4 November 2016 that it would be closing the last John Little outlet at Plaza Singapura after “evaluating the relevancy and sustainability of the John Little brick-and-mortar business”. The group has raised the possibility of the brand returning, as a “brand into a pop up format, which is in line with the global trend for retail businesses”. John Little staff will be redeployed to other businesses under the group.

John Little at Plaza Singapura – the last of a shopping institution that has stood since 1845.

John Little at Plaza Singapura – the last of a shopping institution that has stood since 1845.

A line checks out of John Little.

A line checks out of John Little.

The Plaza Singapura outlet has seen recent waves of crowds; as Singaporeans love a good sale – even a closing down sale. The closure of this shopping institution, Singapore’s oldest department store, signals challenging times in the retail landscape. This Little institution will bow out with big memories for Singaporeans.

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