It has a towering presence, located along one of the busiest intersections in the metropolis, and is fortunate to be located in an area rich in history and commercial activity.
Despite all this, for a long while, Robinsons Galleria Ortigas has long been overlooked as an urban landmark. And the word “overlooked” may be considered a bit generous.
For so long, this particular mall, while not really getting hate, is not exactly that much loved due to a number of reasons that we will get to in this piece.
But before we do so, it’s important to know the history of this mall and its long journey to relevance.
Crown jewel of a budding commercial empire
The opening of SM City North EDSA in 1985 and the “People Power” Revolution of 1986 marked the beginning of a new phase in the country’s retail history: the rise of the shopping mall culture. At that point, SM was eyeing to build more malls after North EDSA and other conglomerates decided to follow suit.
One of those conglomerates is the Gokongwei group who has already been competing with SM at the department store front with Robinsons Department Store. Under the leadership of John Gokongwei Jr., it was decided that Robinsons would compete with SM in the mall front as well. For this, the group acquired a strategic piece of land at the corner of EDSA and Ortigas Avenue, at the Quezon City side of the booming Ortigas Center business district.
As work was going on with the envisioned Robinsons mall, around the same time, a Catholic shrine dedicated to Virgin Mary to commemorate the People Power Revolution was built. This shrine, eventually known as the EDSA Shrine, was built in front of the mall’s northwest end and was seen as a boost for the Robinsons mall being constructed as it would generate more foot traffic, as well as a bit more prominence with having the shrine as a neighbor.
In 1990, the 5-level shopping mall was finally opened to the public and was given the name “Galleria.” Robinsons’ first mall opened to a warm reception from the shopping public. At that moment, Robinsons was soon catching up with SM in the mall business. Unfortunately, things would not go their way.
A series of unfortunate circumstances
As mentioned previously, Robinsons has long had this rivalry with SM. And with the opening of Robinsons Galleria Ortigas, it seemed it would be a matter of time before Robinsons would overtake SM. But Henry Sy was way ahead. At that time, he was already hard at work overseeing the construction of what is already his 3rd mall. A mall that was not only located meters away from Robinsons Galleria, but would also showcase concepts that were yet to be seen by the Filipino shopper. That mall would be SM Megamall, which would open in 1991 and would boast of an ice skating rink and trade halls. That’s not even touching yet the Shangri-La Plaza mall which opened later that year and offered upscale shopping experience and some unique attractions too.
Around this period too, an urban legend circulated about the supposed “snake twin” of John Gokongwei’s daughter Robina which roamed the mall’s fitting room section and frightened Alice Dixson, a popular actress during that time. Outrageous as it was, it was enough to give the young mall a certain “reputation”, the kind that unfortunately does not lure shoppers. And it was a legend that persisted for years and decades that Robinsons could not easily brush off.
It also did not help that during the construction of mass transit Line 3 in EDSA, the conceived Ortigas Station was not only located far from the Ortigas interchange (no thanks to the presence of the EDSA-Ortigas flyover and the deep hole for a supposed residential that has not been built yet at this time of writing) but there was no convenient way to walk from the station to Robinsons Galleria Ortigas except walking a very, very narrow sidewalk.
Then in 2012-13, the mall was struck with two unfortunate incidents that drew shoppers further away. First was a robbery incident inside the mall which happened on March 2012, as robbers successfully stole money that was being delivered to a money changer there. More than a year later in October 2013, fire broke out at the department store, causing the mall to closed down for a couple of days.
While Robinsons Galleria Ortigas has managed to keep its spot as the premier mall of Robinsons, it didn’t help that throughout that “dark period”, more attention was given to the old Robinsons in Ermita, Manila which was given a new name, Robinsons Place Manila, a new look, and a bigger space.
A long-awaited resurgence
The beginning of the turnaround for Robinsons Galleria Ortigas can be pinned at around 2012. Yup, in the midst of the “incidents” of 2012-2013, expansion of the mall began in earnest, eventually bringing its total retail floor area to 216,000 sq.m.
At the same time, the mall was offering space for government offices to have a branch in the mall through their “Lingkod Pinoy” Center for better access of government services by the people. The “Lingkod Pinoy” concept was a successful one that Robinsons offered it in their other malls too.
The next phase of the mall’s resurgence was the redevelopment of the mall which began in 2016 and is actually still ongoing on some parts. This gave Robinsons Galleria Ortigas a more contemporary, fresh, and vibrant look and offered spaces for new and unique retail concepts.
To underscore the changes the mall has gone through, Robinsons decided to revisit the old urban legend that has long “plagued” it through an ad. Released, aptly enough, on Halloween 2018, the ad featured none other than Alice Dixson herself, as it aimed to not only debunk the legend for good but also let the public know of the “new” Robinsons Galleria Ortigas and that it’s time to “make new memories” again. Suffice to say, the ad became a viral hit, helped in part by the popularity of 90s nostalgia which was the period the urban legend first came out.
Whether it’s due to the redevelopment or the ad, Robinsons Galleria Ortigas is being appreciated anew as a modern urban landmark. We look forward for new and better things ahead for it.
Note: The “Galleria” name used to be only exclusively held by the Ortigas mall, but with the opening years ago of Robinsons Galleria Cebu and, recently, Robinsons Galleria South in San Pedro, Laguna, the official name is now Robinsons Galleria Ortigas
Acknowledgements as well to Wikipedia