Century 21: Expanding beyond its retail comfort zone

Posted By on April 29, 2014

Come October, when discount designer-apparel chain Century 21 opens an outpost at the Gallery at Market East, Philadelphia will gain a part of a New York City retail institution known for both its business acumen and its community engagement.

The department-store company last week signed a lease with mall owner Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust to fill 100,000 square feet, mostly on the second floor of the old Strawbridge & Clothier store at 801 Market St.

In announcing the agreement, Joseph Coradino, PREIT's chief executive officer, called Century 21 an "iconic" retailer that "meets or exceeds the sales of any luxury department store in most malls in this country."

The family-owned chain is privately held, so it does not release its financial figures. But business-services company Manta estimated its annual revenue at $160 million, a figure based on eight stores, all in the New York metropolitan area.

Century 21 Department Stores L.L.C. was founded in 1961 by cousins Sonny and Al Gindi, from a family prominent in New York's Sephardic Jewish community. Sonny Gindi died in 2012 at age 88. The company is currently run by Al Gindi's son, Raymond, who did not respond to a request for an interview for this article.

The chain's flagship store is across the street from the site of the World Trade Center. It was damaged but not destroyed during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Barry Berman, a retail expert and marketing professor at Hofstra University, called Century 21 an "extreme value retailer" that relies on "opportunistic buying."

"They really do not have a marketing plan per se," Berman said. "What they love to do is to find a designer who is cleaning out their warehouse or, if Bloomingdale's decides to cancel an order, they will pick up the stock from the manufacturer. They will buy things at a fraction of wholesale and sell them at extreme value."

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Century 21: Expanding beyond its retail comfort zone

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