New York’s beloved Century 21 returns to the retail industry after declaring bankruptcy

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Farah Javed, Copy Chief

After closing stores nationwide in September 2020, retail chain Century 21 Department Stores LLC announced that it will be reopening.

Since Al Gindi and his cousin Samuel “Sonny” Gindi founded the company in 1961, Century 21 has remained an iconic fashion store with 13 locations in the United States until 2020. Over the course of its 60-year run, it became known for its “top-quality discount merchandise.”

The company was forced to close up shop due to financial reasons caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Century 21’s insurance providers did not pay the approximately $175 million needed to keep the company in operation.

The insurers argued that Century 21 did not qualify for business interruption insurance, as certain “policies have specific exclusions including pandemics, bacteria, and viruses,” according to Forbes.

Century 21 closed its stores at the start of the pandemic in March but only declared bankruptcy after the insurers refused to pay in September. Following that, the company shut down all of its nationwide locations — but not for good.

During one of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s coronavirus briefings from City Hall, Century 21 President Mark Benitez announced that Century 21 is alive again and stores would reopen.

“This isn’t your average comeback story,” Benitez said, according to The New York Daily News. “As we embark on this new chapter, we’ll be closely evaluating every aspect of the business — from the locations to the experience known to many as the thrill of the hunt.”

The Gindi family, along with a private investor, were successful in retaining the intellectual property for Century 21 despite the bankruptcy, buying it for $9 million, according to The New York Post.

Century 21 announced its reopening on its company website, citing the reason for its return as loyal customers.

“Never count out a New Yorker,” the company wrote in an announcement. “In response to the outpouring of love from the Big Apple and the admiration of their loyal shoppers from around the world, Century 21 Stores announced they will officially relaunch the beloved institution in 2021. In fact, the company plans to not just reopen locations in the United States, but expand internationally as well.”

Though the question remains if Century 21 will reopen its stores in the same locations in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Florida that were closed, the company definitely is in the works toward opening a location in South Korea.

In fact, the New York staple secured a licensing deal “to open a nine-story, 100,000-square-foot store in South Korea, where it had a strong following,” according to Curbed.

In an interview with Women’s Wear Daily, often referred to as “the bible of fashion,” Benitez placed emphasis on the company’s goals to open stores overseas.

“International expansion, including but not limited to Asia, has always been a part of our long term strategic plans prior to the pandemic,” Benitez said.

Regardless, New Yorkers appear to support the company’s development.

Mariann Tepedino, also known as radio personality Mariann from Brooklyn, appears especially excited for the stores’ upcoming reopening’s.

“Look at this! $189. Retail value $420. I mean, come on! Are they really coming back?!” she said as she showed some of her Century 21 purchases to NY1.

As stores and restaurants continue to close during the coronavirus pandemic, people feel the sting of losing establishments they grew up in or created memories in.

The return of Century 21 is not just good news for many New Yorkers but also a symbol of hope for the bustling city to roar back to life.

De Blasio found the same message of resilience and took pride in the store’s return during the conference at City Hall.

“They said something simple at Century 21. We should all listen to this simple idea,” de Blasio said. “They said, ‘Never count out a New Yorker.’”