Century 21’s closure could bring more traffic to 86th Street: expert

The Century 21 department store on 86th Street filed for bankruptcy this month.
Photo by Paul Frangipane

While many Bay Ridgeites fear that Century 21’s closure may hamper Bay Ridge’s economy, a Brooklyn real estate consultant suggests the closure might benefit the neighborhood once the initial sting subsides. 

“In the short term, there will clearly be some pain,” said Timothy King, a managing partner at borough-based CPEX Real Estate. “But I think in the long term it will ultimately end up being a blessing for the neighborhood.” 

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 closure neighborhood officials fear will devastate the burgeoning business district.

However, King — who previously sat on the board of the 86th Street Business Improvement District — believes not all hope is lost for the southern Brooklyn shopping strip. The sprawling, 19,800-square-foot department store certainly brought shoppers to the area, but he suspects that the retail space will be converted into four or five smaller storefronts, drawing even more customers.

“It brings a stronger and wider mix of tenants, so it’s likely that the 86th Street strip will retain its preeminence as a retail hub, because if it’s a more diverse retail offering, it is likely that a higher percentage of the folks that are coming specifically to one of those new stores may also visit some of the surrounding retail,” King said.

King added that Century 21’s large selection allowed shoppers to buy everything they needed without stopping at other shops. The new stores, however, will most likely sell more specialized items, incentivizing the customers to walk around the neighborhood. 

“Century was an anchor in the sense they drew a lot of folks there,” King said. “They were also to some extent very much a destination retailer, meaning people would come, go into Century, and probably a significant portion did not patronize the other stores.”

The Gindi family, the current owners and founders of Century 21, opened their flagship store on Bay Ridge’s 86th Street in 1961. The company filed for bankruptcy earlier this month after the retailer’s insurance company reportedly refused to pay out business interruption insurance citing pandemic exceptions.

The closure comes at a particularly tough time for retailers looking to stay ahead while shopping continues to shift online — a reality compounded by mass shutdowns in March and April caused by the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.

“Before the coronavirus, there was a significant shift to online purchasing and the virus only escalated that trend,” said King. “Century 21 is a casualty of COVID, they are not alone.” 

For brick-and-mortars to remain competitive in the ever-changing retail landscape, they have to provide a service that can only be offered in-person, King said.

“The retailers of the future are going to be offering something that you can’t experience on your computer screen.”

King does not suspect that the 86th Street space will have any trouble finding new commercial tenants — nodding to favorable commercial zoning requirements and its location in a major transportation hub for both cars and public transit. 

“What I think you will see happen is over the next 12 to 18 months, there will be new tenants that will come in to occupy that very prime space,” King said, foreseeing big-box stores like Bob’s Discount Furniture, Aldi’s, Trader Joe’s and Burlington Coat Factory filling the space. 

Patrick Condren, the executive director of the 86th Street BID, shared King’s confidence.

“We are optimists here,” he told Brooklyn Paper in an interview about the economic health of the shopping strip. “We thank Century 21 for investing in 86th Street BID for 6o years and being a major, major player in this district and creating what we think is a high-traffic shopping zone. There is obviously going to be some sort of immediate impact on some level but we believe strongly and hope that the long-term and the short-term will blend and people will still come here.”

Similarly, Century 21’s second location in the borough — located in Downtown Brooklyn’s bustling City Point development — should also see a quick turnaround, said King. 

“It benefits from many of the similar features as Bay Ridge in the sense it’s becoming a very well established residential community with thousands of new apartments coming online,” King said. “You got the combination of office workers commuters, students, and so forth.”

While it is natural for there to grieve a longtime family business folding, King said history has shown that New York City has little trouble reinventing itself — and often comes out better for it.

“Any time you see a multigenerational family business fold, it’s painful,” King said. “It has been the fabric of the community for a long time but this is a city that constantly reinvents itself … but I think at the end of that period, the retail fabric will be stronger than ever in the community.”