Century 21, the beloved discount department store that started in lower Manhattan, has filed for bankruptcy and announced it will "wind down" its operations and begin going-out-of-business sales.
The company says that they had no choice after not being paid $175 million from insurance providers "under policies put in place to protect against losses stemming from business interruption such as that experienced as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic."
Founded in 1961 by Al and Sonny Gindi, Century 21 began with its flagship store across from the World Trade Center and then expanded to 12 other stores in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Florida. In July, Heather Feinmel, director of marketing and public relations for Century 21, told Forbes, "Our flagship store in Downtown Manhattan has been very challenged due to the decline in tourism traffic as well as local office workers in the area," but added, "We are optimistic about business, even though traffic remains tough, but we are extremely humbled by how many loyal customers did return to shop when we opened our doors, and continue to visit us now."
Now, the company has turned to Chapter 11 bankruptcy. "While insurance money helped us to rebuild after suffering the devastating impact of 9/11, we now have no viable alternative but to begin the closure of our beloved family business because our insurers, to whom we have paid significant premiums every year for protection against unforeseen circumstances like we are experiencing today, have turned their backs on us at this most critical time," said Century 21 co-CEO Raymond Gindi in a statement. "While retailers across the board have suffered greatly due to COVID-19, and Century 21 is no exception, we are confident that had we received any meaningful portion of the insurance proceeds, we would have been able to save thousands of jobs and weather the storm, in hopes of another incredible recovery."
The company was proud of its decision to remain across from the WTC after the September 11th attacks; then-CEO Isaac Gindi described to Fox Business in 2011, "[I]t was like a war zone down here and we were closed for six months. We had a partners meeting, all the Gindi’s are civic-minded people and we decided to stick it out because we wanted to defeat the terrorists. We felt by staying here we would prove we could beat them. We got offers, many offers, to move and relocate, but we decided to stay here."
It took six months to get back on our feet. It was amazing because at the time we only had three stores and our flagship store was 50% of our volume. We were very close to going out of business.
We had $30 million worth of merchandise on order that we could not liquidate because we were closed for six months. I went to my Uncle Al Gindi who was the CEO at the time. He had survived the depression, and he told us to call the vendors and see if they would accept cancellations. We called. All the vendors took the cancellations. We told them we were going to stick it out and going to help rebuild the downtown area. We were the only anchor down here at the time.
According to filings, the company has estimated assets and liabilities between $100,000,001 and $500,000,000. Further, Century 21 says they are "commencing going out of business sales at all of its locations and at c21stores.com."
Century 21 co-CEO IG Gindi said, "While we wish that Century 21 could continue to be a must-see shopping destination for so many, we are proud of the pioneering role it has played in off-price retail and the iconic brand it has become. It has been a true honor for us to be part of the vibrant New York City fashion scene and to serve millions of locals, tourists, and celebrities, side by side."
Both Raymond and IG Gindi also had a message for their employees, "From the bottom of our hearts, we thank all of our dedicated and hardworking team members for their countless contributions, including continuing to give 100% throughout this pandemic to take care of our customers and each other. We will be forever grateful for the vital role they played in building the Century 21 legacy hand in hand with our family. Together, we hope we can help our loyal customers create some final memorable Century Stories."