LOWER MANHATTAN — To many New Yorkers, as well as to many tourists, it’s a name that’s synonymous with New York City, its fashion, and its economy. Now, Century 21 is back after having declared bankruptcy three years ago.
To say that its return was highly anticipated would be an understatement, according to the discount fashion superstore’s many, many fans.
“It means everything. Everything,” said Melody White, who said that she’d shopped at Century 21 “for decades.”
On Tuesday, she was the first person in a line that extended from the Cortlandt Street store’s front door, down the block, and three corners — all the way around the block for the flagship store’s reopening.
“Century 21 gave us nothing but bargains,” White said. “The best bargains. Nice stuff.”
She showed up at 6:22 a.m. for the noon reopening, and during her wait, she witnessed quite a few milestones for reopening day, including watching the arrivals of the employees, as well as the arrival of Mayor Eric Adams, who oversaw a mid-morning ribbon-cutting ceremony.
“This is a ‘Welcome Back, Kotter’ moment,” the mayor declared, referring to the theme song of the 1970s sitcom, which he then quoted: “Welcome back, welcome back, welcome back.”
The welcome was a long time coming for the retail company, which was founded by the Gindi family six decades ago. The pandemic reduced foot traffic so significantly that it forced the company to shutter all 13 of its stores in the tri-state area and Florida. The company also declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy. That bankruptcy action did include a plan for a possible reopening over time. That time arrived on Tuesday morning.
The doors to the flagship store opened at 11:20 a.m., 40 minutes early, due to the sheer volume of people waiting in line. It had been highly anticipated by customers, as well as staff, according to Larry Mentzer, Century 21’s chief operating officer.
“Over 30 percent of our current employees were legacy employees, people that wanted to come back to work,” Mentzer said. “You saw it on our employees’ faces today. They were thrilled to see the customers.”
Those customers brought their A-game after the years-long separation.
Karen Smith, a self-described long-standing customer, said that she’d bought “Everything. Everything I can find.”
“It’s different when you can shop in store because you can feel the items, look and see if it’s going to fit you, [rather] than ordering online and it gets to you and the quality is cheap, and it doesn’t fit right,” she said.
At 100,000 square feet, the store is slightly less than half the size of the original. Still, it has fashion bargains that attract customers from around the world, as shopper Medi Lindolsi, who lives in France, said as his wife tried on a trenchcoat.
“It’s a nice feeling” to have the landmark return, he said.
Another shopper, who gave only his first name, Rob, said that he’d come to Century 21 every time he was in New York from Sydney, Australia.
“It’s part of the New York cultural thing,” he said. “You can’t imagine New York without Century 21.”
New York shoppers said that an old friend has returned.
Raya Saratovsky was among the many locals. Her shopping basket was overflowing.
“I’ve been shopping since early ’80s [at Century 21],” she said. “I was devastated when they closed up. But New York is coming back, downtown is back, and the fashion is back.”