Former Bay Ridge Century 21 to be used as city-run COVID self-testing site

The original Century 21 department store on 86th Street in Bay Ridge displayed going out of business signs before closing in December 2020.
Photo by Paul Frangipane

The shuttered flagship location of Bay Ridge-born department store Century 21 has been given temporary new life as the sprawling building gears up to serve as a city-operated COVID-19 self-testing site, opening this weekend.

“We needed this site and we needed it badly,” said Bay Ridge Councilmember Justin Brannan in a statement. “There are many local pharmacies and drug stores as well as mobile lab vans offering testing. But the only sites within our control are the ones run by NYC Health and Hospitals. We are very lucky to have a brick-and-mortar site in our community; not every community does.”

Brannan and State Senator Andrew Gounardes announced the opening of the newest NYC Health and Hospitals coronavirus testing site Friday afternoon, as long wait times continue to plague the city’s free testing sites due to the surge of the Omicron variant. Over 280,000 Brooklynites got tested for COVID in the span of just seven days last month — many of them stuck waiting days longer than anticipated for their results to come back.

“With the surge in Omicron cases across our city, it’s crucial that everyone get tested regularly.  We’ve seen people have to wait for hours to get free testing, causing stress and anxiety for our neighbors,” said Gounardes, who represents a swath of southern Brooklyn including Bay Ridge, in a statement. “Thank you to New York City Health and Hospitals and the team over at Century 21 who made this a reality.”

The testing site — located at 448 86th St., between Fourth and Fifth avenues — is expected to take the burden off other local sites and reduce wait times which will hopefully encourage more people to get tested, Brannan said in a statement.

“Due to the rise of new variants and a drastic increase in the demand for testing, we and the rest of the city have seen growing lines and wait times that are simply unconscionable,” Brannan said. “No one should have to give up their whole day get tested. I’m so thankful to NYC Health and Hospitals for seeing the need for our new location, and to the Century 21 team for opening their doors to meet it. This is going to make a huge difference in keeping our neighborhoods as healthy and safe as possible.”

The “self-testing site” — a method which has gained popularity as New Yorkers face a shortage of at-home tests and traditional testing sites continue to be overrun — will administer at-home tests which visitors can take on-site under the guidance of an NYC Health and Hospitals employee.

The Century 21 testing site will open this weekend, from 9:30 am to 4:30 pm on Jan. 15 and 16, with a full weekly schedule to be announced. It will serve as Bay Ridge’s second NYC Health and Hospitals COVID testing site, the other just half a block away at 8511-8515 5th Ave.

This is the first time the barren building will be used since Century 21 closed at the end of 2020. The big-name retailer announced the closure of all of its 13 locations — including two in Brooklyn — after filing for bankruptcy in September 2020. Owners at the time blamed the shutdown on the pandemic and the chain’s longtime insurance company, which allegedly refused to pay out nearly $175 million to the store under their business interruption policy.

The department store’s closure sent shockwaves through Brooklyn, and especially Bay Ridge, where residents depended on the store for decades — and while rumors spread in 2021 that Century 21 could make a comeback in Bay Ridge, those claims ended up proving fruitless when the 86th Street location officially went up for lease to kickoff 2022.

News of the new Bay Ridge testing site also comes as locals lament a lack of options in southern Brooklyn — and as elected officials across the city and the aisle work to secure more testing resources for their districts.

Just last week, the city’s lone Republican congressmember, Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, announced an expansion of PCR testing in her district, which includes a sliver of southern Brooklyn. In a release, the pol said she helped secure three new testing sites: RJ Medical and Urgent Care at 464 Bay Ridge Ave., Americare at 8114 Fifth Ave.vand Teba Pharmacy at 7618 Fifth Ave.

“As residents continue to experience long lines at existing testing sites, expanding the number of locations and tests available in our community is key so people can determine whether their symptoms are COVID and properly isolate to stop the spread,” Malliotakis said. “I am proud to partner with RJ Medical & Urgent Care, Richmond Pharmacy & Surgical, Super Health Pharmacy, and Angelina’s Ristorante who have been with us every step of the way in fighting this pandemic to expand access to thousands of tests across four locations in our community.” 

For hours at those locations, prospective visitors should check the pharmacies’ websites.

Update (Feb. 1, 11:47): This story has been updated to correctly state the the former Century 21 building is on the market for lease, and not for sale as previously written.