Edited by: JV Staff
Century 21 Stores — a destination for bargain hunters looking for fat deals on designer dresses and shoes, cosmetics and housewares for nearly 60 years — has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and is winding down its business, shutting all 13 stores across New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Florida.
Century 21 joins more than two dozen retailers who have filed for bankruptcy since the pandemic, which forced non-essential stores to temporarily close.
In a statement, the New York-based company said that the decision followed nonpayment by the company’s insurance providers of approximately $175 million due under policies put in place to protect against losses stemming from business interruption. Insurance money helped it rebuild its flagship store, a magnet for locals and tourists in downtown Manhattan after it was damaged by the 9/11 attacks, the company said.
Previously, the Jewish Voice had reported on the meteoric rise that the Century 21 stores experienced since its inception.
The Century 21 chain of department stores has become an iconic fixture in retail hubs scattered throughout the Northeast corridor. Best renowned as the “go to” store for designer labels at bargain basement prices, Century 21 has crafted a stellar reputation as the industry leader in high quality merchandise at affordable prices.
Owned by the Brooklyn based Gindis (who are not brothers) the original concept for the growing company was to become a family business endeavor and to this day it is still owned and operated as such. At the inception in late 1950s Al Gindi suggested the partnership to Sonny Gindi, who co-owned a children’s wear business named Lolly Togs. Another partner was friend and relative Ralph Gindi, who passed away at a young age. In 1961, the partners founded the first Century 21 store. Ralph’s children Irwin, Ellie and Jeff were bought out of the company over a decade ago. Sonny had two sons, Isaac and Eddie. Eddie Gindi, who entered the business in 1977 in the stock room, is now the Executive Vice President & Co-Owner of Century 21 Department Store. Al’s sons are I.G. (Isaac) and Raymond. Raymond has now reached the level of company CEO.
So, precisely how did the folks behind the Century 21 Department Store achieve such extraordinary success?
1.Have a quality product
Century 21 Department Store has excelled in the off-price sector, presenting high-end and contemporary designer merchandise in beautifully designed stores that create a luxury one-stop shopping experience. The legendary New York based retailer features women’s, men’s, shoes, accessories, children’s, cosmetics and home departments.
The company always strives to stay up to date with the latest tech available to stores. “One of the things our founders taught us is that you can’t be frugal in your expenses when it comes to security and technology. As far as technology is concerned, we invest a very large amount in our IT and e-commerce departments,” said Eddie.
- Offer peace of mind but don’t break your back to do it.
Century 21 offers a 14 day price match policy for merchandise still in stock. The store and website offer 45 day return policy. Being flexible, however, doesn’t mean the store has to lose money. Return shipping is deducted from a refund, otherwise free returns can be made in store.
- Keep customers happy.
Century 21 became a fun store to go to by the virtue of several factors. First, the company uses a very basic principle: customer loves to feel like they got a deal. Even for customers who buy something they don’t need, or pay more than they hoped, it feels like winning if the price was discounted 25 to 75 percent off.
Customer service also refers to attentiveness. As of 2014, the downtown store alone had 1000 employees, with over 5,000 employees in all. That total will now be substantially higher, as only 9 stores were opened at that time. Customers cite being on a first name basis with the employees, despite the store’s massive footprint and heavy foot traffic. The store’s policy of excellent service trickles down from the top managers to the employees. There are abundant reviews from Century 21 shoppers raving about how helpful the employees are. One patron took to Yelp to comment, “District manager Domenic was very helpful! I accidentally locked my phone in a free phone charge station that was in the store and he helped me unlock it by calling the store which took 15 minutes”. In this era of social media and online reviews a company’s reputation is so fragile. Customer service is a worthwhile investment.
- Think big.
The chain’s flagship store is located on 86th Street in the legendary Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn. The flagship store in downtown Manhattan’s Dey Street near the World Trade Center was opened in the same year. It started as a three story 6,000 square foot store, and it now encompasses seven floors complete with granite and mahogany moldings, spanning 220,000 square feet. Throughout the decade that ensued, the chain has expanded, adding new locations in: Manhattan’s Lincoln Square near the Upper West Side; Rego Park, Queens; Westbury, Long Island; Green Acres in Valley Stream; 85,000 square feet in Saw Grass Mills Mall in Florida; 100,000 square feet at 801 Market Street in Philadelphia; Paramus, NJ; Elizabeth, NJ; Morristown, NJ; City Point in Brooklyn.
In October of 2018, the retail chain opened its 13th store in Westchester County. The new store is in Yonkers Cross County mall, boasting 70,000 SF which included a $10 million renovation to the former site of National Wholesale Liquidators. “The DNA of our family-owned business is delivering value to our consumers by making the unattainable, attainable through our long-standing relationships with luxury brands. We are excited to be a part of the renovation at The Mall at Cross County and deliver designer brands at amazing prices to the Yonkers community,” announced CEO Raymond Gindi.
As of 2011, the chain also launched an online store with a full E-Commerce platform, followed by a Century 21 credit card.
- Don’t give up
After the 9-11 terror attack, the downtown flagship store was closed for five months. Though there was no structural damage, merchandise and fixtures were damaged. The area suffered a great decline with 100,000 jobs lost in the vicinity. Still, the company spent about $10 million refurbishing the store, and took a substantial risk by reopening in the then shattered neighborhood. They didn’t know if they would ever get the same foot traffic back.
- Stay humble.
In 2002, when the Century 21 store across from the World Trade Center reopened, there was a line with thousands of devoted shoppers there to show support. Politicians including then Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Eliot L. Spitzer, the former state attorney general, hailed the stores reopening as the rebirth of Lower Manhattan. The NY Times wrote an article about it, in which Raymond Gindi was quoted saying, ”We were surprised,” at all the attention. ”My dad was like, ‘What’s the big deal? We’re a little store.’ ”
- Be generous.
Aside from the usual charity drives that most department stores conduct for PR purposes, the Gindi family has made significant contributions to a long list of organizations. The family made substantial donations to the Sephardic Bikur Holim, Hatzalah, Barkai Yeshiva in Brooklyn, and the Yeshiva of Flatbush High School has an Al and Sonny Gindi Campus on 1609 Avenue J. The family has aligned with the Center for Designed Philanthropy to create a counseling program for at-risk youth in several Orthodox Jewish high schools. The family also supports the Shehber Institute Rabbinical College in Israel, which conducts outreach similar to that of Chabad. Further, the family dedicated a building to Rabbi Yitzchak Dovid Grossman, and have been long time supporters of Migdal Ohr.
According to Eli Beer, the President of United Hatzalah of Israel (a major lifesaving, paramedic and ambulance service), “the Gindis have donated lots of lifesaving equipment to United Hatzalah over the years including two Century 21 ambulances. We are so grateful for their support. We also hosted an event in their home a few years ago.”
A source familiar with the family said that far from being haughty about the donations, their father criticized the contribution, saying donating the building was not enough and should have included a stipend for maintenance costs.