“This is a Welcome Back Kotter moment; welcome back, welcome back, welcome back,” Mayor Eric Adams said on Tuesday, referring to the newly reopened Century 21 department store in lower Manhattan. The off-price retailer, known for its discounted designer duds, may not have been channeling Gabe Kaplan’s 1970s tv role as a Brooklyn educator who returns to his alma mater to teach the unruly teen’s aka ‘Sweathogs’ but a classic New York comeback story nonetheless for an institution beloved by locals and tourists alike. Closed since December 2020 for the second time after filing bankruptcy (it also closed following September 11), the Gindi family, who owns Century 21, celebrated its return with a six-hour festivity-filled shopping event for all New Yorkers.
“I want businesses open, but we need to be clear about Century 21,” the mayor told the crowd of families and press. “I go back many years when I was running for office, and I had to find the right tie; there was an African American sales lady who would help me buy ties, putting it with the jacket and shirt,” he continued. The mayor loves a good tie story, as he referred to another instance where he suggested ties to a young shopper he encountered.
The mayor was on the way to the funeral of a Brooklyn mother and her two daughters who perished in an apartment fire in late April but made a pit stop en route. “I missed this store so much every time I drove by, I said, ‘I have to get here,'” he said.
Adams also commended the family for hiring thousands of New Yorkers in good-paying jobs. “They love this city so much, it broke their hearts to close,” he added, noting the shopping experience left customers with a good feeling they could afford something nice.
Eddie Gindi, VP of Century 21, thanked the mayor and his team for their support. “This is history; right now, we are making history. The mayor is business-friendly and understands the importance of opening businesses, large or small. It’s an incredible change from what it used to be. He will bring back the glory of New York City like it was years and years ago,” he said.
For shoppers, the Gindis are bringing back the glory of a deal. The four-story store was brightened with a design gloss-up and touches such as a Keith Haring-esque black and white mural depicting New York City cultural icons by artist Timothy Goodman. A tagline has been updated for today with an “If you know, you know” hashtag, aka #IYKYK, on columns throughout the store.
Ease of navigating the experience via a pool of registers on each floor (to include assisted self-checkout areas) and a more straightforward, more uniform floor layout and displays were crucial to the remake of the 100,000 square-foot space, according to Century 21 VP of marketing Teresa Rodriguez. “We wanted it to be not so much of a hunt; it’s easier to shop now,” she told FashionNetwork.con while navigating the needs of staff and eager customers.
She witnessed it firsthand when the store spontaneously opened for three hours the day before to test the registers. “When we pulled down the red vinyl covering the windows, people walking by knocked on the glass and cheered. It’s a New York comeback story,” she said. The company will focus on this as its sole brick-and-mortar location but expects its e-comm to be up and running in about three months.
Indeed, it’s a comeback to a post-pandemic city with more Gen Z coming of the shopping age. “We have a lot of emerging brands you wouldn’t expect to exist in off-price, and we are skewing to a younger customer with contemporary brands,” she said, adding, “What everyone was looking for in Century 21 was the better slash best brands, so we scaled back on mass brands.” Presumably, she was referring to brands such as Cult Gaia, Mansur Gavriel, Larroude, A.L.C., Lagence, Ganni, Simkhai, LoveShackFancy, Re/Done, Sovere, and Mon Renn, among others.
Rodriguez pointed out that the larger chain off-price retailers generally stock merchandise explicitly made for that market. Century 21 still procures actual overstock or unsold ‘last call’ merchandise thanks to its marker relationships.
Indeed, the flurry of activity surrounding the designer bags on the main floor and designer shoes on the basement level confirmed that shoppers were eager for merch from brands such as Gucci, Bottega Veneta, Loewe, Gianvito Rossi, Proenza Schouler, and Stella McCartney. The YSL handbag case had customers clamoring for core styles (think Duty-Free) that ranged in price from $1,200 to $2,000 for more oversized, more elaborate handbags. By comparison, the popular Lou camera bag style is currently on offer for $1,690, and the Kate with tassel for $2,400 also at Century 21, on YSL.com.
Pre-owned vintage Chanel bags, labeled as non-returnable, were also offered thanks to the Two Authenticators brand, which resells verified designer bags and other accessories. Rodriguez pointed out they were the only New York store to carry the brand’s Chanel products. They also helped stock the discount retailer with Louis Vuitton, Fendi, and Celine bag styles, presumably much to the chagrin of the European brands’ owners.
The second and third floors were less hectic despite the store hitting 7,000 shoppers three hours after opening its doors. (Pre-pandemic stats were 12K to 15K shoppers daily).
The most notable names in the women’s department were brands such as Stella McCartney, Moschino, Victoria Beckham, Akris, and Monse. An originally $3,540 cropped leather Moschino jacket with embellishments was offered at $1049.99.
The men’s offering on the top floor revealed more prominent names such as Valentino, Balenciaga, Celine, Burberry, Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana, Versace, Off-White, and Dior Homme. The former offered mainly logo-branded T-shirts and hoodies, such as a lavender Balenciaga T-shirt with intentional slashes for $419.99. This luxury entry category was the subject of a recent TikTok as merch purposely designed for those who want bragging rights and quite the opposite of what the actual ‘quiet luxury customer’ would buy. Dior offered the closest thing to true wardrobe staples with pique Polo shirts for $349 and a pullover anorak jacket with the Dior pattern logo at $1,599.99. Other men’s labels include Helmut Lang, Obey, Theory, Hugo Boss, and 3.1 Phillip Lim.
On the primary floor, shoppers eagerly tried to win gift cards at a Wheel of Fortune spinner game set up next to another store highlight, its beauty offerings. This included brands such as Bond No. 7, Tom Ford, and Hermès, which offered its Terre D’Hermès for $79.99. Oribe shampoo products and Karl Lagerfeld make-up bags also stood out.
One shopper hauled her selection of footwear, including the heavy-soled Daniel Lee Bottega Veneta styles, to the first floor to try them on. “It’s madness down there, so I just brought them up here,” she said.
A young sales associate sprinting up the escalator complained of her legs hurting when a customer pointed out she was young. “Did you see the store? I won’t be by the end of the night,” she said. It also begged one to wonder what would be left on the shelves and racks by the end. Fortunately, like always, Century 21 will get new shipments weekly. Time to clear your Tuesday mornings, #IYKYK.
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