The End of an Era……Robinson Luggage

2 Nov

It’s always sad to see a long-established retailer disappear. Over the last decade many have closed their doors. In this case it is a longtime employer of mine. Robinson Luggage has been a client for 25 years,a fact that I still cannot believe, where does the time go? I started back in the 80’s when Robinson had already been doing business a generation before me. The company was at its height with six locations, Ardmore, PA. Jenkintown, Cherry Hill NJ, Chadds Ford PA. and Yardley Those heady days kept me busy designing stores and maintaining interiors. The period of expansion was exciting, sales were brisk and all was right in the company. Our center city location was a primo spot, dead center in Philadelphia on the corner of Broad and Walnut. If you are familiar with Philly it does not get better than that. The Center City location was my favorite, our space was in the Old Ritz Carlton Hotel built by George Dunton Widener directly across the street from the infamous Bellevue Stratford Hotel[the site of Legionnaires Disease in the 70’s] a dubious distinction.

The Last Hurrah

The Last Hurrah

It is said that Mr Widener built his hotel due to the fact that his wife was banned from the Bellevue due to public smoking.  George had the funds to build his own hotel where she was permitted to smoke. Revenge is sweet, up went the Ritz. In 1912, George D. Widener, his wife, and their son Harry traveled to Paris, France, with original intentions to find a chef for Widener’s new Philadelphia hotel, The Ritz Carlton. The Wideners booked their return passage on RMS Titanic. After the ship struck an iceberg, Widener placed his wife and her maid in a lifeboat. The women were rescued by the steamship RMSCarpathia, but George D. Widener and his son Harry both went down with the shipPlanPhilly  DAGspace Looking Up on Broad Street - Google Chrome 1122013 43655 PM.

George Dunton Widener

George Dunton Widener

I always got a bit of a thrill poking around in that space knowing its history. Nothing was left of the old Ritz but the Horn and Hardart that preceded Robinson left plenty of reminders behind. Beautiful terrazzo flooring, large public lavatories, stainless steel handrails were hidden from view in the basement. The roar of the Broad St. subway could be heard just on the other side of the basement  walls. In fact a few windows on the street level still date from the old H&H.  It never occurred to me what lie ahead. An irony similar to that of Mr. Widener passage on the Titanic, hubris, success and fate can lead to disaster.

The recession struck the first blow, the six stores became two. At that point the online sales were greater than the brick and mortar. Left with center city and the Haverford stores we continued to make sales,but the generational shift was occurring, tastes were changing. Our older customers were disappearing and the younger ones no longer sought our product mix and the higher price points.  Perhaps the same fate due to Widener’s over confidence was upon us as well, the ship began to sink.

 The luggage game has changed drastically during my 25 year tenure [unless you are a member of the one percent] elegant travel has disappeared. Air travel is a nightmare of security lines and cancellations. There is no longer the need for a stylish matched set ported by a Red Cap upon your arrival. A duffel bag is a better choice, it makes a better pillow while one waits out a canceled flight. Weight restrictions have morphed the potential luggage buyer priorities. The obsession with lightweight luggage is rampant, an absurdity, due to the fact that luggage with wheels rarely leaves the ground and most will cram 60 pounds into a 40 pound bag anyway. Cell phones and Blackberry put an end to the attaché case, no longer are train commuters shuffling reports on their laps. Gone are those beautiful tweed and tapestry  suitcases by Hartmann and French. They have all been replaced by Chinese manufactured nylon and vacuum formed plastic hard shells, loud and flashy they resemble the latest looks from sneaker manufacturers. When nested sets of nylon luggage can be had for a song at Macy’s,Target and Walmart how can you sell a classic Hartmann for 600? The premise on which Robinson was founded had evaporated. 

My Swan song to Broad and Walnut

My Swan song to Broad and Walnut

25 years of luggage display ended last week.  Am I sad? of course I am. Many old friends lost their jobs and another local retailer has disappeared. Time to travel on.

 

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