Century 21, a New York discount retail chain with stores across the eastern United States, recently filed for bankruptcy and will close all of its locations, including its original store at Bay Ridge. Succumbing to the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic after failing to receive insurance money, the retailer became one of the latest prominent retailers that have gone bankrupt. The sorrow is especially hard to bear for some Bay Ridge natives who have fond memories of the first-ever Century 21 department store. “I am really sad to see the old place go,” said Nicholas Loud, a Bay Ridge native. “Century was an institution on 86th Street for the whole of my life, and I have many memories of going there with friends and family. The prices were affordable, but the size of the store always lent the place a feeling of grandeur.”
Century 21 is closing all of its stores, including the Bay Ridge store.
Founded in 1961 by two cousins Sonny and Al Gindi, Century 21 opened its first store on Bay Ridge’s 86th Street. It quickly gained popularity due to its affordable prices, expanding its influence beyond Bay Ridge to thirteen other locations in the country. The Bay Ridge location spanned across two buildings. With a flagship store near the World Trade Center that sold designer clothes, cosmetics, home furnishings and household items before the pandemic, the retailer was featured in an episode of “Sex and the City.” The guidebook Off Track Planet’s Brooklyn Travel Guide for the Young, Sexy, and Broke has an effusive review, writing “Everyone knows about the Manhattan location of this famous NYC discount store, but the Bay Ridge branch is far superior…Century 21 is all about boss swagger on the cheap.”
After the 9/11 attack, the flagship store in Lower Manhattan was damaged and shuttered for five months before reopening to a stream of customers with the help of insurance money, the same money whose absence during the pandemic led to the retailer’s closure.
The absence of insurance money forced Century 21 to file for bankruptcy.
In Manhattan, writer Laurie Gwen Shapiro stopped by the location near the World Trade Center and said she went to “Pay my final respects on an afternoon walk from home. Seriously sad. I grew up in this store — I think it was here for 60 years! And losing Daffy’s was hard enough!” Untapped New York founder Michelle Young noted the cycle of change in New York City: “I remember when people were upset when Century 21 replaced Barnes & Noble on 66th and Broadway. It was straight out of the storyline of You’ve Got Mail. And now, what will come next?”
In Bay Ridge, many locals have shopped at Century 21 for decades. When the news of closing were announced, many Bay Ridgeites were devastated. “Bay Ridge won’t be the same without it,” Loud said. Now, some elected officials are racing to save the department store before its intended closure with a new bill that would potentially allow Century 21 to receive its insurance money, but the future remains grim for the giant retail chain.
Century 21 was shown in the background of a scene in Saturday Night Fever. Check out the filming locations for that iconic movie here. For more Brooklyn, join us on a tour of the Secrets of the Brooklyn Bridge this weekend!
Next, check out 21 restaurants that have closed permanently this year.