Will buyers flock to Philadelphia's Century 21?

Shoppers peruse shirts at New York's Century 21, which is opening a branch in Philadelphia.
Shoppers peruse shirts at New York's Century 21, which is opening a branch in Philadelphia. (CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer)
Posted: April 30, 2014

NEW YORK - Stylist Brittany Chenault is shopping for spring brights in Century 21 Department Store's cavernous men's section for singer Nick Lachey to wear on VH1's Big Morning Buzz Live.

The 26-year-old Brooklyn-based fashionista is a regular at the discount store's downtown flagship. On Monday morning, Chenault's rolling red shopping basket overflows with gingham prints, warm orange hues, and lots of denim. Stylists, she says, shop at Century 21 a lot.

"You can get great things at a great price," she says, sifting through racks of fitted menswear from runway faves Viktor & Rolf and Dsquared2.

This fall, Century 21 will open a 100,000-square-foot, two-story, full-service store - in other words, the perfect place to also buy that Ninja juicer you've been thinking about - as an anchor to the Gallery at Market East. The Philadelphia Century 21 will be the chain's ninth location for the Gindi family and its first outside the New York City metropolitan area.

Raymond Gindi, the company's chief operating officer, said he was ready to bring Century 21 to Philadelphia because of the major retail and development potential east of Broad Street. He calls the expansion to Philadelphia the next logical step in the family-owned company's growth plan.

Center City's Century 21 will join other designer fashion at a fraction of the price stores in the area: Marshalls, Burlington Coat Factory, and Ross Dress for Less. Nordstrom Rack will open in the old Daffy's building at 17th and Chestnut Streets this year, too.

These haunts certainly have lots of deals to offer, yet none has the gravitas or cult following of the 53-year-old Century 21 - especially its downtown star, just across the street from the World Trade Center site.

"My friends in Sweden told me this was a great place to spend some time if you have a little extra time or money," says Sofie Martinez-Riqué, 44, who has been vacationing in Midtown since Wednesday. At this moment, she is balancing two boxes of shoes: one pair of Anne Klein flats and a pair of to-die-for cowboy boots.

"If you are looking for something special, it's a little hard, but all of my friends at home said this was the best place to shop in New York City," she says.

"Everybody in Brazil talks about Century 21," says Leonora Viera, 34, whose basket is filled with purses and sunglasses.

Century 21 is among the city's top tourist destinations, and the Philadelphia store could become a similar draw, since it will be just a few blocks from the Liberty Bell, the National Constitution Center, and the Convention Center.

It's a little after 8 a.m. (the downtown location opens at 7:45), and there is already a quiet buzz in the 220,000-square-foot, six-floor store, which includes three floors of women's clothing, a new shoe department that shoppers find through following the red footprints, a full cosmetics counter that sells MAC at full price, and the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf Café.

Shopping here for designer goods is not like trying to find a needle in a haystack. Runway brands, from Diane von Furstenberg to Maison Martin Margiela, are clearly labeled with the latest arrivals front and center. Century 21 is true to its word - most pieces cost at least 65 percent less than designer prices. For example, a Timo Weiland fit and flare dress originally $400 was just $89.

Full-price designer haunts like Barneys or Saks Fifth Avenue and specialty boutiques still get pieces first, but they arrive at Century 21 while still very much in season. New arrivals come every day.

"I come here about once a month to check out what they have," says Maureen Murphy, a 45-year-old lawyer who lives on Long Island but works a few blocks away on Water Street. Murphy is contemplating purchasing a pair of Michael Kors spectator flats in tan and black.

"They just have such a great selection . . . like they have Tahari suits," Murphy says.

Century 21 does everything big. There are endless rows of glittery belts and pops of neon in roomy, short-handled totes. Walls of fedoras, umbrellas, and floral scarves line the walls.

And while the amount of high fashion seems unending, with everything from color-blocked jumpsuits to Chanel No. 5, it's also the basics that bring in people from overseas.

In less than a week, this is 37-year-old Swede Pelle Turin's second trip to the store. His red basket is filled with white socks and white T-shirts. Can we say staples?

"The prices, if you compare to Sweden, are just so much better," Turin says.

Kelly Drover visits Century 21 every time she visits from Newfoundland. This time she brought her two children, including 12-year-old daughter Mackenzie, who cannot seem to get enough of the floral maxis.

"There are so many, and they are all just so pretty," Mackenzie says.

Fred Stenesset and his wife, Karey, have walked from their hotel in Midtown to Century 21 for a sweatshirt.

They plan to go to the Statue of Liberty and didn't have enough warm clothes for the chilly New York breeze.

"There are so many things to see," Karey Stenesset says.

"But we are only going to buy this shirt," says Fred Stenesset as he pulls over a sweatshirt. "That's all."

Good luck with that.


ewellington@phillynews.com

215-854-2704

@ewellingtonphl

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