John Little



Singapore Infopedia

by Chia, Joshua Yeong Jia, Tay, Shereen

Background

John Little, also known as JL, is Singapore’s oldest department store.1 It was established by John Martin Little in 1842, and was acquired by Robinson & Co Ltd. in 1955.2 John Little had several stores across Singapore over the years, but has since been operating two stores as of 2016.3 In April 2008, Robinson & Co. Ltd (now known as the Robinson Group of Companies), which owned John Little as well as Marks and Spencer, was bought over by the Al-Futtaim Group. However, the Al-Futtaim Group eventually closed all John Little stores, the last in 2016, 174 years after John Little was founded.4

Early history

The story of John Little began in 1842 when John Martin Little started out as a storekeeper and auctioneer at his relative’s, Francis S. Martin, establishment at Raffles Place (formerly known as Commercial Square). On 30 August 1845, John M. Little and Cursetjee Frommurzee, a well-known Parsi merchant took over the business and continued it under the name of Little, Cursetjee & Co. The partnership was dissolved on 1 July 1853. However, John M. Little continued the business on the same premises with his brother, Matthew Little, under the name of John Little & Co.5

During the early 1900s, John Little & Co had a diversified range of business ventures which included the selling of wines and spirits, manufacturing of furniture, tailors, milliners, stationers, booker-seller, watch and clockmaker to name a few.6 The company was converted to a limited company in July 1900 and by 1929, it had expanded to Malaya, with branches in Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Ipoh.7

Japanese Occupation

During the Japanese Occupation of Singapore, John Little’s building at Raffles Place was taken over by the Japanese army and replaced by the Japanese department store Daimaru. The store notably served Japanese clientele exclusively.8

Later years
In February 1955, John Little & Co Ltd was acquired by the Hong Kong firm Jardine Matheson & Co. Ltd, and subsequently a new company, John Little (Malaya), was formed.9 On 1 July of the same year, Robinsons & Co. Ltd., another department store in Singapore, acquired a 76 percent stake in John Little (Malaya).10

In 1960, John Little moved out of its building at Raffles Place after an occupancy of 117 years.11 It relocated to different locations and opened several stores over the years, such as Specialist’s Shopping Centre, Robina House, Plaza Singapura and Straits Trading Building.12 On 29 August 1987, John Little was revamped, shedding its image of the poor man’s Robinsons to appeal to a younger and trendier clientele. It was marketed with a new logo “JL”, and its premises at Specialists’ Shopping Centre in Orchard Road was given a facelift.13

The company subsequently expanded its reach to the heartlands. In 2002, it had seven branches, six of which were in suburban malls such as Northpoint, White Sands, Causeway Point, Jurong Point, Compass Point and Parkway Parade.14

In 2007, John Little moved out of Specialists’ Shopping Centre after more than 20 years. The store relocated its flagship store to a 40,000 sq ft space in Marina Square in June 2007.15

Robinson & Co. Ltd, which owned John Little, was then bought over by the Dubai-based investment group Al-Futtaim in April 2008 and delisted from the stock exchange in June.16 However in 2015, the Al-Futtaim Group announced the closure of the Marina Square and Tiong Bahru outlets, saying that the retail sector had too many malls.17 This left only two remaining John Little stores at Plaza Singapura and Jurong Point.18 Both outlets were closed the following year with Plaza Singapura's John Little outlet shuttering in November 2016, bringing an end to 174 years of retail history.19 




Authors

Joshua Chia Yeong Jia & Shereen Tay



References
1. Seah, L. (2002, August 15). John little is a big boy now. The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Buckley, C. B. (1984). An anecdotal history of old times in Singapore: 1819­-1867. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 350. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 BUC-[HIS]); Robinsons and John Little are still rivals. (1955, November 11). The Straits Times, p. 12; Robinsons take over Littles. (1955, June 17). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Boon, R. (2015, March 12). Major shake-up at Robinsons Group; some John Little, Marks & Spencer outlets to close. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
4. Fung, E. (2008, April 4). Sold – Robinsons' now owned by Dubai's Al-Futtaim. Today, p. 4; Lee, S. S. (2008, April 5). OCBC ends Robinson ties, sells stake to Dubai retail group. The Straits Times, p. 95. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Wong, S. Y. (2016, March 30). Gloom – and some cheer – on Singapore’s retail scene. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/; Robinsons. (n. d.). Careers. Retrieved August 22, 2016 from Robinsons website: http://www.robinsons.com.sg/careers/; Tay, T. F. (2016, November 6). John Little to close last store by year end. The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Buckley, C. B. (1984). An anecdotal history of old times in Singapore: 1819­-1867. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 350. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 BUC-[HIS]); Khoo, B. L. (1973, February 2). No more ...those hoof-beats of the days gone by. The Straits Times, p. 11; Raffles is the place to be. (1997, September 28). The Straits Times, p. 45. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Rimmer, P. J. (2009). The city in Southeast Asia: Patterns, processes, and policy. Singapore: NUS Press, p. 165. (Call no.: RSING 307.760959 RIM)
7. Buckley, C. B. (1984). An anecdotal history of old times in Singapore: 1819-1867. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 350. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 BUC-[HIS]); Business Interprise. (1914, April 17). The Straits Times, p. 10; Untitled. (1926, January 26). The Straits Times, p. 8; Real estate boom in Ipoh. (1929, December 26). The Straits Times, p. 20. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Bayly, C. A., & Harper, T. N. (2005). Forgotten armies: The fall of British Asia, 1941-1945. Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, p. 230. (Call no.: RSEA 940.5425 BAY-[WAR]); Shimizu, H. (1999). Japan and Singapore in the world economy: Japan's economic advance into Singapore, 1870­-1965. London: Routledge, New York, p. 124. (Call no.: RSING 337.5205957 SHI)
9. It's definite. (1955, February 26). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Robinsons take over Littles. (1955, June 17). The Straits Times, p. 7; Robinsons and John Little are still rivals. (1955, November 11). The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Chan, S. B. (1960, September 28). New move at John Little. The Singapore Free Press, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Teo, T. W. (1979, August 7). John Little's sets up new outlet in Plaza S'pura. The Business Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Koh, A. (1987, August 29). John Little gets revamp. The Straits Times, p. 16; Lim, P. L. (1987, August 30). John Little come lately. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Seah, L. (2002, August 15). John little is a big boy now. The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Yip, M. (2007, March 2). John Little leaves Specialists' Centre. The Straits Times, p. 65. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16.  Lee, S. S. (2008, April 5). OCBC ends Robinson ties, sells stake to Dubai retail group. The Straits Times, p. 95
; Robinson & Co to be delisted from Monday. (2008, June 13). The Business Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Some John Little, Marks & Spencer stores to close. (2015, March 13). Today, p. 35; Lee, Y. N. (2015, March 18). S’pore’s retail sector ‘unsustainable, with too many malls’. Today, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Some John Little, Marks & Spencer stores to close. (2015, March 13). Today, p. 35. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Tay, T. F. (2016, November 6). John Little to close last store by year end. The Straits Times, p.14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



The information in this article is valid as at November 2020 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

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