Newsmaker: What Retail Apocalypse? Ron Robinson and Others Mark Decades in Retail

The Ron Robinson stores on Los Angeles’ Melrose Avenue and in Santa Monica, Calif., made it through harsh recessions and weathered tough changes in the retail scene and are still around to talk about it.

This year, the Ron Robinson stores marked their 40th year in business while other veteran stores were closing their doors.

The stores’ founder, Ron Robinson, celebrated his 40th anniversary by publishing a softcover book called “Years.” It’s his account of how he moved to Los Angeles from El Paso, Texas, after high school and got a job during the late 1960s with pioneering retailer Fred Segal, when Segal was solidifying the reputation of his Fred Segal store as a place to find the newest designers in Los Angeles.

In 1978, the retailer started his self-named Ron Robinson store at the Fred Segal compound on Melrose Avenue. He currently runs two 5,600-square-foot flagships and employs 60 people.

When asked how he has stayed in the game for so long, he answered with a comment and a motto: “It should be clear that I didn’t hope or expect that we would be looking now at 40 years [in business]. The 40 years just happened along the way. Every day my team and I reflect on the business and plan how to proceed. It wasn’t about quantity, it was about quality,” he said.

Robinson is one of a handful of prominent Los Angeles boutique retailers who started business in the late 1970s or early 1980s. They continue to thrive. This group of retailers includes Robinson’s Melrose Avenue neighbor Ron Herman as well as Tommy Perse of Maxfield, Michael and Sara Dovan of Traffic Los Angeles and Mark Werts of American Rag Cie.

What made these retailers unique is that they not only stayed on trend but their shops also cultivated their own styles and became their own brands, said Bernard G. Jacobs, a stylist.

These retailers had longevity because they didn’t overextend themselves, said Diane Merrick, who ran a self-named boutique in Los Angeles that started in the early 1970s. She retired in 2016.