Jewish-Owned Century 21, Known for Selling Designer Bargains, to Shutter This Week
By Yehudit Garmaise
One of the latest business casualties of the COVID-19 pandemic, Century 21, the discount department store chain, whose original store was located at 472 86th Street in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, is closing all 13 of its branches in New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, and Sunrise, Florida, in the next few days.
Century 21, whose largest and most well-known store was in lower Manhattan, has, unfortunately, joined a long list of prominent retailers, such as Brooks Brothers, J.C. Penney, J. Crew, Neiman Marcus, Lord & Taylor, and Sur la Table that have filed for bankruptcy during the pandemic.
In 1961, Brooklyn natives and cousins Samuel, who was known as “Sonny” and Al Gindi, who were from Syrian Jewish families, founded the store, which became the place to go for buying designer clothing at bargain prices and a forerunner to the many off-price shopping stores it inspired, such as Ross, T.J. Maxx, and Marshalls.
Although the Century 21, which is not connected to the real estate brokerage firm of the same name, employed 4,000 people and brought in nearly $750 million in sales last year, Al Gindi's son Raymond, the store's chief operating officer, explained that while insurance money had helped Century 21 rebuild after the Sept. 11 attacks 19 years ago, the store’s insurance policy “to whom we have paid significant premiums every year” was supposed to protect it against “unforeseen circumstances like we are experiencing today.
Unfortunately, Gindi reported, Century 21’s “insurance company has turned its back on the store at this most critical time.”
After failing to receive $175 million that the clothing store’s insurance policy owed them “to protect against losses stemming from business interruption, such as that experienced as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the fashion retailers said in a statement, Century 21 reported in September that it was filing for bankruptcy.
Century 21 is not the only retailer to feel stiffed by an insurance policy that previously appeared to cover what is called, “business interruption.” After thousands of retailers have sued their insurance policies for failing to come through during the pandemic, many insurers have responded by saying “direct physical damage” must occur for claims to be paid out.
Some insurance policies, however, include specific wording for viral epidemics.
Some say that when Century 21, whose flagship location was right across the street from the World Trade Centers, rebuilt and resurfaced after being evacuated and significantly damaged from the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the store’s reopening give months later on Feb. 28, 2002, became a symbol of Midtown’s recovery and resurgence.