‘Pain for gain’: Century 21 flagship in Bay Ridge to be demolished, but why?

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 former flagship location of beloved discount department store Century 21 in Bay Ridge will soon be demolished to make way for a space that would be better suitable for multiple stores.

Century 21 owners, the Gindi family, shuttered the sprawling 86th Street shopping center, and its 12 other locations nationwide, in 2020 after filing for bankruptcy. The family blamed the move on their insurance company denying payout for their multi-million dollar business interruption plan during the pandemic.

Since then, rumors have swirled that the cherished chain store would eventually reopen its Bay Ridge location, but those tales proved futile — especially now, with demolition permits filed for Century 21’s two neighboring buildings at 448 and 460 86th Street.

The Commercial Observer first reported Tuesday that ASG Equities, owned by the Gindi family, plans to destroy the 170,000-square-foot vacant retail buildings, building in their wake a larger retail development fit for more than one new retailer.

But why?

Speaking with Brooklyn Paper, the executive director of the 86th Street Business Improvement District, Pat Condren, described the coming construction as a “short term pain for a long term gain,” as he expects the rebuild to pay off down the line with a suite of fresh new businesses in the bustling shopping hub.

Since its opening in 1961, Century 21 served as an anchor of the Bay Ridge shopping district, attracting people to peruse the all-in-one department store, but stay on the strip to check out some more stores since they’d already made the trip. Its absence continues to be felt, as neighboring businesses push on in their COVID recovery.

A line of people wait to get inside Century 21 on 86th Street in Bay Ridge in the months before the store closed for good.Photo by Paul Frangipane

But the current layout of the former department store wouldn’t be suitable to most stores as it was unique to Century 21’s brand, according to sources close to the demolition project, who added that starting over has far fewer hurdles than the logistical challenges of chopping up the existing space.

Condren said a number of national chains are already looking to fill the space, as the data shows that doing business on 86th Street has proven to be successful.

“We are aware of numerous, numerous large nationals continuing to look at the very strong data that demonstrates that 86th Street that this improvement district is a very good place to shop,” he said. “The dynamics and data are there with a half a million people and three community boards and a major transportation hub, we know the nationals are looking.”

Bay Ridge Councilmember Justin Brannan, who fought hard to convince owners to reopen the flagship after its closure, stressed the importance of an economically healthy 86th Street as it benefits the small businesses on the neighborhood’s other commercial corridors.

“The importance of 86th Street as a retail shopping destination and hub of local employment simply cannot be overstated. The vibrancy of this corridor is absolutely crucial to our local economic ecosystem,” he said. “A rising tide lifts all boats: the busier 86th Street is the better our smaller independent mom and pop shops and restaurants along 3rd and 5th Avenues will do!”  

He added that these updates are what keep 86th Street a vibrant shopping hub, which he has been shopping at since his youth.

“The goal here is to bring 86th Street back bigger and better than ever,” Brannan said. “And as a kid who grew up in Bay Ridge, I will do everything in my power to make that happen.”

In all, the project could cost as much as $45 million, a rep for RIPCO Real Estate — the company managing the property’s lease — told the Commercial Observer, with announcements about who will take over the space expected in the next five to six months.

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