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This Beloved New York Department Store is Coming Back From Pandemic Death

HBO's "Sex and the City" once gave this iconic department store a shoutout.

The pandemic and the shifting face of retail have been particularly hard on the American department store.

Once-iconic institutions like Lord & Taylor, Brooks Brothers, and Neiman Marcus teetered on the edge of bankruptcy. And over 200 department stores permanently shut their doors between when covid-19 first came to the U.S. in 2020 and today.

While less known in the rest of the country, one loss felt particularly strongly was New York's Century 21. Founded out of Brooklyn in 1964, the chain of department stores sold designer brands like Dior  (CHDRF)  and Givenchy at up to 80% off, earning it a permanent place in the hearts of fashionistas.

As the flagship location was located close to many courthouses in Lower Manhattan, Carrie Bradshaw of HBO  (HBO) 's "Sex and the City" once called getting to shop there "the best part of jury duty."

Is It Really Coming Back?

But while Century 21 was beloved by both New Yorkers and visitors to the city, its business model of having customers dig through racks for that golden find could not survive the pandemic. By the end of 2020, the chain filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and closed all 13 locations in both New York and New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Florida.

The potential of a comeback was always in the air as the Gindi family, led by original co-founder Sonny Gindi, bought the intellectual property rights to the store during bankruptcy proceedings.

But while Century 21 first committed to both an online and brick-and-mortar comeback in 2021, the plans stalled and the main Financial District location remained eerily shuttered despite taking up a 60,000 square foot building in the city's Financial District.

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Expectations were finally confirmed when, this week, the department store announced that it would be reopening this location in Spring 2023 and rebranding as "Century 21 NYC" in a nod to its home city.

"In our 60-year history we have only closed our doors twice, once after the devastation of 9/11 and then again during the Covid-19 pandemic," Raymond Gindi, Century 21 co-chief executive officer, said in a press release. "But like the true New Yorkers we are, we have persevered."

So When Can I Get That Discounted Gucci?

The store is currently not revealing whether any other locations will open or how it will ensure profitability, promising more details in the coming weeks.

One of the supposed reasons for the bankruptcy had to do with inability to keep up with online purchases -- before covid-19, the Century 21 site was secondary to the brick-and-mortar location where the truly good bargains could be found.

Retail management company Legends is partnering with the Gindi family for "in-store upgrades and an elevated, e-commerce presence."

"Working side by side with the Century 21 team, we have enhanced the in-store and e-commerce experience and are excited to 'open the doors' to a global audience in 2023," Dan Smith president of Legends Hospitality.

Will This Be The Same Century 21 Many Knew And Loved?

Many things have changed in the nearly two years since Century 21 first closed its doors. Department stores that are doing well, such as Nordstrom  (JWN) - Get Nordstrom Inc. Report, have focused on offering in-store pop-ups of curated selections and customer "experiences" in the stores.

While the allure of expensive goods at lower prices can draw in a way of in a way that trumps every other "experience," Century 21 will also need to change its strategy in order to not repeat past mistakes or rely solely on the comeback of in-store shopping for profit.