Ross Robinson leaves his mountainside home in the jungles of Thailand for 35 to 40 weeks every year to sell posters at college campuses across the U.S.
What started as a record store that he opened in New York City in 1970 eventually became a traveling poster sale that offers a widely varied selection.
Robinson spends one week selling posters at each university he visits. His vast collection greeted students walking through Southeastern Louisiana University‘s Student Union last week.
“This is the world’s largest collection of popular pictures in one spot,” Robinson said. “I’m a fanatic about having every type of picture that I can possibly find.” Although he has been setting up shop at universities for 35 years, he simply calls his business Ross Robinson Poster Sale. “I’ve never thought of any kind of special name for it.”
However, he carefully considers what to include in his stock.
“We’ve made a careful study of every type of picture you can think of,” he said. “We’ve learned which ones are the most popular, and they’re here. If something is missing from here, it’s because it either is not popular, or they don’t make it anymore.”
Robinson’s poster selection includes modern and classic films, popular television series, video games, sports stars, musicians, famous artwork and historical figures. He orders his posters from 27 companies in locations around the world, including Thailand, where he currently resides when not traveling for his business.
“If you fly to Bangkok, Thailand, and then you drive for 10 hours, then you’ll be at my home in the jungle, which is on the side of a mountain,” Robinson said. “I bought the whole side of the mountain because property there is very cheap, and so that’s where I live.”
Robinson also built a hotel on the mountainside to host tourists. Features of his land include jungle trails and a suspension bridge traversing a river that Robinson describes as being great for swimming.
Originally from Portland, Oregon, Robinson worked his way across the country in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington D.C. before opening a record store in Greenwich Village in New York.
“I wanted to experience living in the place where everything was happening,” he said.
Robinson decided in 1980 to try selling some of the store’s vinyl LP records at Lehigh University, where in one day, he made four times the average amount of daily income of the record store. He closed the store and began taking the records to colleges all over the U.S.
“They were the old LPs. They weighed one pound each, and I had 10,000 pounds of LPs to load and unload all the time,” Robinson said. After seeing someone selling posters once, he began including posters in his sales while featuring fewer LPs. He continued gradually increasing the amount of posters and decreasing the number of records until posters became the sole product of his business.
“It seems to be received very well by students,” said Eric Aymond, director of the Student Union. According to Aymond, Robinson books in advance the space in the Union where he annually sells posters this time of year.
“I’ve tried it everywhere to see where I could hit the jackpot and become a millionaire,” Robinson said. “But the schools are by far the best.” College campuses are now the exclusive venue for his business. Robinson said that universities give him larger areas and cheaper rates to display his products than other locations such as malls.
Although his location choice is specific, he avoids limiting his audience to college students looking to decorate their dorms.
“This is also for people who have gigantic mansions,” he said. “Something for everybody.”
Robinson, eager to accommodate his customers, provides assistance in handling and rolling purchased posters to avoid wrinkling or bending. He also offers a discount on the fourth poster bought by shoppers who purchase three posters throughout the week of his sale.
“He obviously loves what he does,” said Courtney Bruno, a communication major at Southeastern. Bruno bought four posters at the sale last week. “I got them for Christmas presents.”
Robinson, who plans to return to Southeastern again next fall, said that students love the posters. He discussed the fact that even students on tight budgets enjoyed shopping at the sale.
“They had $30 left in the world; they spent 20 of it or so on the posters,” he said. “There are people that just want to have something on their wall in their room.”