Southern Brooklynites reluctant to bid farewell to longtime retailer Century 21

A line of people wait to get inside Century 21 on 86th Street in Bay Ridge before they open at 10 a.m. on Sept. 22.
Photo by Paul Frangipane

As Century 21 marks its impending closure with massive going out of business sales, Brooklynites from Bay Ridge and beyond are lining up around the block to get into the sprawling department store’s flagship location — many sad to see the longtime discount retailer packing its bags.

“This has been a prime location for great shopping for years and years and years,” said a Bensonhurst resident named Marlene. “We’ve been shopping here a long time. [It’s] the best store.”

Century 21 shoppers told Brooklyn Paper they have been patrons of the department store for decades — some since the 86th Street storefront first opened in 1961 — and are still coming back, even since moving out of the neighborhood. 

“I just can’t believe it. I lived here for many years. Now I live on Staten Island, but I always come down to this store,” said 70-year-old Laura Daly.

Nasrin Aljahmi waits in line for Century 21 in Bay Ridge to open to take advantage of the closing sales to buy perfume, sunglasses and hand bags.Photo by Paul Frangipane

Century 21 on Sept. 10 announced its plans to close all 13 of its stores in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Florida, including its original location on 86th Street in Bay Ridge — a loss neighborhood officials fear will devastate the burgeoning business district. A pair of local politicians have since moved to try to save the flagship store, while others speculate that the influx of more than one big-box retailer in Century 21’s place may end up benefiting 86th Street down the line.

Still, those on line to enter the store on Tuesday morning — some of whom live nearby — say they’re worried about the economic damage that might come from the loss of such a major attraction.

“I grew up coming here when I lived in Staten Island. I’ve known this store since I was a teenager, and now I live in Bay Ridge … and it’s just a shame,” said Arlene Severet. “People come here to shop for the holidays, for every occasion.”

The resident of 85th Street said her worst fear is that the bustling shopping district may soon become a “ghost town,” but that she is holding onto hope that there will be a bright side.

“I’m optimistic because they can do other things, maybe turn this into like a Caesar’s Bay Bazaar,” Severet said.

Arlene Severet shops for perfume inside Bay Ridge’s Century 21 department store.Photo by Paul Frangipane

Most of the shoppers said they would like to see another department store occupy the space to help fill the void of the convenient one-stop shop retailer that Century 21 was for them.

“I live around here and I’m so sad they’re closing because it was like the first stop shopping place, I come here like literally every day,” said Nasrin Aljahmi, a nearby resident who is optimistic that the beloved discount department store may have a second-coming once the COVID-19 pandemic is over.

“Hopefully they come back after this pandemic ends and everything goes back to a normal life,” Aljahmi said.