Richard Schilling fondly remembers heading to Century 21’s original Bay Ridge location after school with friends back when they attended nearby Poly Prep as teenagers four decades ago.  

“That was basically our mall growing up,” said Schilling, 56, of Sunset Park. 

The department store, founded in 1961, grew over the years — taking over other shops along 86th Street, morphing into a labyrinthine collection of interconnected storefronts offering everything from discount clothing to toys to housewares. 

Century 21 eventually stretched beyond Bay Ridge to amass 13 locations in the eastern United States, including five outposts in New York City. 

But Thursday marked the end of an era for the chain, which filed for bankruptcy and announced plans to close all of its stores. The move would eliminate nearly 1,400 jobs, according to Bloomberg News. 

Century 21 became the latest retailer to fall in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic expedites the death of department stores across the U.S. 

‘It’s Such a Shame’

On 86th Street, where it all started, concerns for the traditionally lively shopping strip’s future mixed with fond memories of a neighborhood institution.

“Me and my sisters were always there shopping and our parents were always OK with us going there,” Maria Argano, 58, said as she stopped by to window shop. “And I’d always go there even for my own kids when they were little.”

Argano added, “It’s really hard to think of Bay Ridge without Century 21. It’s a shame, it’s such a shame. 

Century 21’s original outpost on 86th Street, where it grew over the last six decades Credit: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Andrea Watkins said she started going to Century 21 in 1999 when she first arrived in New York City.

“It quickly became one of my favorite places,” said Watkins, 53. “Such a great loss for the city.”

In a statement to Bloomberg News, Century 21 co-CEO Raymond Gindi blamed the company’s insurers for the bankruptcy and impending closures.

“The insurance companies turned their backs on us at this most critical time,” Gindi told Bloomberg. “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 insurance proceeds, we would have been able to save thousands of jobs and weather the storm.”

So Longs and Sweatpants

State Sen. Andrew Gounardes (D-Brooklyn) called the department store “vital to our community” and bemoaned the lost jobs.  

Gounardes added it was unacceptable for Century 21’s insurers to not pay out the store’s business interruption insurance — and called for the state Legislature to pass his bill, which would mandate that insurance companies pay such claims.

“If a pandemic does not constitute a legitimate business interruption, what does? It’s time for insurance companies to stop turning their backs on our businesses in their moment of need,” Gounardes, who represents Bay Ridge, said in a statement. “It’s time to hold insurance companies accountable for their actions.”

Century 21’s stores are set to close after the company filed for bankruptcy. Credit: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

John McDonnell, of nearby Dyker Heights, mourned Century 21’s impending loss as he shopped there for sweatpants Thursday.

“Everyone will be sad, but were they shopping here? I don’t think so. Everyone wants to do it online now,” said McDonnell, 82.

He looked over his purchase and decided to grab two more pairs of sweats. 

“Got to get them while I can, I guess,” he said.