Century 21: Retail’s Beacon in Lower Manhattan
Century 21, long viewed as a symbol of resilience for lower Manhattan following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, is looking to expand its downtown flagship. For the discount shopping fixture, that may solve what other retailers wish was their primary complaint: overcrowding.
According to a report in Crain’s NY, Century 21 currently occupies 120,000 square feet across the cellar and first three floors at 22 Cortlandt Street across from the World Trade Center, between Broadway and Church Street. The retailer wants to add floors four to six, currently vacant office space. The expansion was approved by city’s zoning subcommittee this week.
The store’s flagship will expand by 76,000 square feet to reach 196,500 square feet. Century 21 also has five other stores in Brooklyn, Queens, Long Island and New Jersey, and is opening an Upper West Side location. But its trophy location is the downtown flagship, drawing packs of locals and tourists on weekends looking for values, particularly on designer merchandise.
The expansion is not expected to add any new merchandise, but bring wider aisles, more dressing rooms, more bathrooms, and a cafe.
“What we want to do is make it a better shopping experience,” Betty Cohen, Century 21’s director of corporate relations, told DNAinfo back in June when the expansion was first revealed. “You walk through the aisles, trying to get to the merchandise, and you’re knocking things off the rack, [saying] ‘Excuse me, excuse me.'”
Expected to see even greater traffic with the opening of the 9/11 Memorial, the store’s expansion is widely cited as a positive sign for the area’s recovery. The store was evacuated after the first plane hit the World Trade Center. While avoiding structural damage, the store was caked in debris and many fixtures had to be replaced. Thousands of fans waited in line the morning on Feb. 28 2002 when it reopened.
What drives the crowds? Century 21 describes the flagship as a destination for value-oriented, high-end fashion consumers with “more than 15 departments of sensational quality and designer merchandise at 25 percent to 75 percent off retail prices.”
Many reviews circling around the internet likewise touted the bargains while often offering advice for handling the cramped aisles.
Fodor’s review states that Century 21 “remains the mother lode of discount shopping. Four floors are crammed with everything from Marc Jacobs shoes and half-price cashmere sweaters to Donna Karan sheets, though you’ll have to sift through racks and fight the crowds to find the gems. Best bets for men are shoes and designer briefs; the full floor of designer women’s wear can yield some dazzling finds, such as a Calvin Klein leather trench coat for less than $600. Don’t miss the children’s section, either, for brands like Lucky Jeans and Ed Hardy. Since lines for the communal dressing rooms can be prohibitively long, do what the locals do: wear leggings and change discreetly in the aisles.”
Writing for The New York Observer, Matt Chaban said the flagship may be the city’s “worst shopping experience” after Trader Joe’s in Union Square, which continues to draw long lines that often run out the door. Mr. Chaban added, “Still, when Century 21 is good, it’s really good. Dress shoes, bow ties, and some of the best clearance deals in town. If you can stand slapdash shelves and crammed clothes racks, the flood of tourists fighting for clothes and the woefully indifferent staff, the store can be a goldmine.”
- Century 21 flagship growing up, big time – Crain’s NY
- Century 21 Department Store Brings 50 Years of Fashion to NYC’s Upper West Side – Cityguideny.com/century 21
- Lower Manhattan’s About to Get a Massive Helping of Century 21 – Ny.racked.com
- Gucci Bags, Satin Blouses and Joy; Century 21, a Downtown Fixture, Reopens to Cheers – The New York Times
- Century 21 – Fodor’s
- Century 21, Tourist Horde’s Favorite Department Store, Expanding Just in Time for Ground Zero Crowds – The New York Observer
Discussion Questions: What makes Century 21’s flagship in downtown Manhattan a shopping destination? How much are the crowded aisles and chaotic shopping experience part of its appeal?