Century 21 is back.
On Tuesday, Century 21 Department Stores reopened as Century 21 NYC by welcoming the public to its downsized flagship in New York City’s Financial District. According to company executives, Century 21 has retained the role that put it on the map — namely, facilitating treasure hunts resulting in great deals on covetable fashions. But at the same time, it’s uniquely operating like a startup, which is set to benefit brand partners and customers alike.
“It’s basically a startup, at this point,” said Judy Duzich, vp and general merchandising manager, who worked for Century 21 for almost 30 years before its bankruptcy. For example, along with resecuring brand partnerships, the company has had to establish new 3PL partners. And, rather than merchandising 13 stores, as they did in 2020, Duzich and her team have been laser-focused on outfitting the single, 100,000-square-foot flagship location. The limited floor space has eliminated the need for the type of filler product that larger off-price stores often rely on, she said. And brands can rest assured that their products won’t sit unsold for extended periods.
Teresa Rodriguez, the company’s vp of marketing, hinted that more stores are on the way and confirmed that a Century 21 e-commerce site will launch soon. The company is also preparing to announce “exciting” partnerships, she said, but declined to elaborate.
Century 21 NYC’s opening day, which kicked off at noon on Tuesday, proved a draw. At around 10:30 a.m., company executives on-site during a VIP shopping preview were overheard saying that the line outside had grown to more than 500 people. According to a Century 21 NYC representative, the store welcomed as many shoppers during its seven hours in operation on Tuesday as it had on a typical weekday pre-pandemic. Of course, the day was treated like an event, with NYC-famous treats, photo booth ops and giveaways among offerings being served up for free.
Days before the opening, Duzich was hesitant to discuss the designers being sold in-store, as many brands “can’t be advertised” and “wanted to be quiet,” she said. But browsing the store on Tuesday revealed several well-known labels. In the lower-level shoe department are familiar styles by JW Anderson, Proenza Schouler and Valentino. The main floor features authenticated pre-owned bags by Louis Vuitton and Gucci, as well as new styles by young contemporary brands including Cult Gaia. And the sunglasses section is stocked with frames by Tom Ford and Prada. Moschino is well-represented in the women’s clothing department on the second floor, as are Stella McCartney and Victoria Beckham. And New York-based brands, including Monse and Larroude, are represented throughout.
As the company adds sales channels, the “treasure hunt” experience will likely most be felt in-store, as styles available in limited quantities won’t be sold online, said Rodriguez. However, the e-commerce site will feature more merchandise, Duzich said. For example, it will sell lingerie and home products, which are not yet offered in-store. Buy-online, return-in-store will be offered.
Overall, Century 21 plans to differentiate from off-price competitors and its former self with a tight edit of what Duzich described as “good, better and best” brands. “You’ll see more new and emerging designers with a younger feel,” she said. “And a lot of European and contemporary [brands],” rather than an abundance of “moderate” American brands. Missing are never-worn styles by luxury brands owned by LVMH and Kering. In Century 21’s “good” category are fast-fashion brands meant to attract younger shoppers.
In addition, merchandising just one store allows for more quality control, compared to competitors who stock hundreds of locations, Duzich said. “They’re doing [made-for] outlet product; we don’t have to do that,” she said. Products currently on Century 21’s sales floor are instead styles from collections released since 2022. Some are in-season. Of course, as the company grows and expands, maintaining the same high quality will be challenging.
As for the willingness of brands to trust Century 21 as a retail partner again, Duzich said, “We’ve been more welcomed than expected.”
“Brands want to be in our store. They love that we’re in New York, and they love that we have a tourist customer,” she said. “And they like that our formula lets them be in and out [of the store]. We’re not warehousing goods, and our product depth is not large. Brands don’t want to be in an off-price store in a big way,”
Century 21 closed its doors after filing for bankruptcy in September 2020. At the time, CEO Raymond Gindi blamed the state of the company on insurers, for their refusal to cover pandemic-related revenue losses owed to the company. Just prior to bankruptcy, Century 21 was slated to open a 55,000-square-foot store in New Jersey mega-mall American Dream.
But the Gindi family bought back the company’s intellectual property for $9 million in 2020. And early this month, Century 21 used an Instagram post to announce its return. The move is being facilitated by a new partnership with retail management company Legends. Legends manages retail and hospitality operations at Yankee Stadium and One World Observatory, among other New York establishments.
On Tuesday morning, Century 21 hosted a press conference and ribbon-cutting ceremony, where Gindi family members and other Century 21 executives spoke at a podium about their love for the store, New York City and Century 21 employees; a long list of returning executives was read and met with applause. NYC Mayor Eric Adams also spoke, describing Century 21 as an iconic New York landmark. And COO Larry Mentzer stressed Century 21’s influence, reporting that shopping the store as a kid inspired Telfar Clemens to become a fashion designer.
To promote the store, Century 21 is focusing on digital advertising, including on social platforms and involving influencers, Rodriguez said. “Considering the state of the economy, if people are looking for good deals, we want to show them where they can find them,” she said
Rodriguez suggested that the store was remodeled with social media in mind, calling Century 21 “the perfect playground for influencers and social content.”
Along with featuring new murals by artist Timothy Goodman, the store was updated to be “brighter,” “cleaner,” “simpler” and “easier,” according to Rodriguez and Duzich.
“We want to keep the treasure hunt, but make it less of a hunt,” Rodriguez clarified. That includes ensuring less clutter and offering larger fitting rooms and more cash registers. Plus, products are displayed on brand-designated racks.
“When you get too large [as a company], you have to do things a certain way,” Rodriguez said. “So, as we enter this new phase of Century , we want to make sure we’re aware and listening to our customers, and able to make adjustments as needed.”
“The reopening gives us a chance to hit the restart button,” Duzich said.