Call it the end of a retail era. After 41 years at the Fred Segal center, Ron Robinson is closing his Melrose Avenue bricks-and-mortar store in early 2020. (He shuttered his Santa Monica location in November.) Although the news may coincide with Barneys New York’s bankruptcy and a shifting retail landscape, Robinson emphasized that his stores shouldn’t be lumped in with the others.
He said he’s closing his doors to have more free time. “It was a decision I made,” the 70-year-old entrepreneur said, sipping coffee on the patio of Mauro Cafe adjacent to his West Hollywood store. “I said, ‘I’m just not up for another five years or 10 years.’ … It’s important to know that this isn’t a going-out-of-business. This isn’t lost-our-lease. This isn’t bankruptcy. … I’m at a certain age and I want the time for me.”
Robinson kicked off his farewell festivities in November with a friends-family-and-customers soiree called “A Happy Ending,” the first in a series of farewell events at the store. The boutique will remain open in January and, likely, into February. “We’re flexible,” Robinson said. “The landlords here really wanted us to stay. … I don’t have a firm [closing] date.”
Before the party, Robinson walked around his 6,000-square-foot store, introducing his employees as if they were celebrities in their own right. He presented his wife, Stacy, who is the company’s vice president, with the same zest as he did the children’s department manager, Walter Giedrocz. “I wanted you to meet everybody,” Robinson said, explaining that a number of his employees had been with him for 25 years. “They’re part of our family.”
No surprise, celebrities have long been a part of the clientele.
Stacy Robinson reminisced about the time Bruce Springsteen tried on underwear at the store, and she told a story about Robin Williams jumping behind the counter for an impromptu comedy bit while shopping for Hawaiian shirts. She held a commemorative yearbook from last year’s 40th anniversary, which revealed additional anecdotes, such as that actress-singer Rita Wilson was a sales associate before her career (and that of husband Tom Hanks) took off.
Ron Robinson shared his own memories. “I lived on that parking lot,” he said, motioning to a row of cars behind the boutique. He explained that, prior to opening his store in 1978, he worked as a salesman, buyer and vice president for Fred Segal in 1968. During that time, he lived on the property. “There was a duplex there, and there was another duplex next to it. I lived in each one as I worked here, and they knocked it down for parking.”
During Robinson’s trip down memory lane, he strolled through the boutique’s Apothia cosmetic and fragrance shop in addition to the men’s, women’s and home design departments. In the children’s section, Robinson pointed to a wall and ceiling covered with butterflies. He commissioned them from French fashion designer Christian Lacroix eight years ago. “They said, ‘We don’t want to do a kids shop,’” Robinson said, “and I said, ‘You’ll want to do this kids shop.’” They agreed.
Robinson opened his children’s department 35 years ago. “I started that as a single guy, no kids,” he said. “But I knew that my customers wanted a black leather motorcycle jacket and a pair of denim jeans for their baby, so I got it for them.” (Robinson now has a 27-year-old son, Max.)
Once the store closes, Robinson will shift focus to real estate and development endeavors as well as exploring various philanthropic opportunities. He said he looked forward to spending time with his family in addition to continuing his Apothia fragrance brand, which launched with one perfume, named If, in 2000. He developed the scent by surveying 100 women from around the country. Drew Barrymore, Jennifer Garner and Macy Gray, whom Robinson met through the store, also participated in its creation, he said.
Apothia has since expanded to 12 scents in the form of perfumes, candles, diffusers, lotions and body washes ($30-$95) available at the Ron Robinson boutique and the Apothia website. Apothia also collaborated with MissoniHome on a line of five candles in 2014. Recently, a few of the scents were rereleased and are available at the Italian label’s Miami and New York stores.
Robinson said his Ron Robinson retail website would add new merchandise as he felt inclined. “I had a dream, and thankfully, my dream came true,” he said. “I read a quote that really signified what I’m doing. [Dr. Seuss] said, ‘Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.’ … I’m saying farewell to retail because I’ve done it for 41 years. We’ve been very fortunate.”