Ron Robinson has a remedy for America’s slumping brick-and-mortar sales: Make Shopping Fun Again

By Christina Campodonico

Photos by Maria Martin

When you arrive at his namesake store in downtown Santa Monica, Ron Robinson wants it to feel a bit like you’re entering his home.

“I wouldn’t let you stand there and not offer you a drink,” says the longtime L.A. fashion retailer and Venice Canals resident as he makes me a latte at the in-house coffee bar. A few taps on an iPad, and steaming hot coffee and milk flows from a sleek spout seamlessly integrated into the white marble countertop.

“This comes from the mind of one of the esoteric premium coffee guru guys,” explains Robinson, who then turns my attention to an elegant black pour-over kettle that looks like it would be equally at home in an art museum.

“If it can be functional and be art or if it can be art and be functional, isn’t that fabulous?” he remarks.

That philosophy — and a whimsical sense of humor — runs throughout RON ROBINSON, the Santa Monica flagship store of Robinson’s eponymous retail brand, which began at Fred Segal in 1978 and continues to wow visitors here on Fifth Street and at a second location on Melrose Avenue. Robinson made his name and rose through the Fred Segal ranks by turning the brand’s Melrose Avenue center into a top L.A. shopping destination.

Upon entering the Santa Monica store, pint-sized plastic gnomes — reminiscent of the sheens and hues of Crayola crayons — greet you with the victory sign. Others give you the finger.

The irreverent gesture sets a playful tone that continues throughout the walls of the eclectic lifestyle boutique. Panels of fantastically dressed animals in haute couture, designed by New York artist Brian Kenny for Christian Lacroix’s 30th anniversary, add flashes of whimsy. And miniatures of artist Jeff Koons’ famed chrome balloon dog sculptures — with light bulbs for noses — are another fun new addition.

Robinson tells me he doesn’t just put items in store for the sake of filling up shelf space.

“It was because it was the coolest thing that I could find,” he says, excitedly moving on to a clock that spells out the time and a state-of-the-art speaker that animates the lyrics to your favorite songs.

Yet the store is not simply a showroom for Robinson’s carefully curated high-tech home décor and wares, encompassing designer apparel, fine art, cosmetics and art books. The store doubles as an event space for a range of activities, from book signings and art exhibit openings to workshops and fitness classes — usually yoga, which happens Saturday mornings on an outdoor patio that serves as a lounge space for chitchatting or sipping coffee or tea the rest of the week.

Robinson says hosting events in the store adds a “social component” to the store that’s missing from online shopping and more traditional brick-and-mortar retailers.

“There’s a very human and personal touch to what goes on here,” says Robinson. “We have a collected, curated group of products that is really wonderful and fun to look at, but each one of them has a story to tell. … It’s just an object until it gets