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The ultimate insider's guide to the best-kept secrets of NYC's must-see places and buzzed-about people.

Century 21's flagship, located in lower Manhattan, is

Century 21's flagship, located in lower Manhattan, is a top destination for bargain-hunting tourists and locals. Part of the store is a former Art Deco bank building. (Credit: David Caplan)

landmarks

Secrets of Century 21: The Manhattan flagship store

22 Cortlandt St., New York, NY 10007

Century 21 has been a go-to destination for style-savvy New Yorkers and visitors on the hunt for marked-down fashionable finds for decades.

Since its debut in 1961, the flagship store in lower Manhattan has been growing in size, and securing itself a spot in pop culture, with cameos in TV shows and an ongoing parade of celebrity shoppers. Pop in on a weekend, and it's wall-to-wall tourists from all over the globe.

But deals aside, the flagship is known for its stunning architecture, its congenial owners and its commitment to lower Manhattan following the 9/11 attacks.

First, let's set the record straight: The department

Credit: New York Public Library

The 1964 World's Fair in Queens inspired the name 'Century 21'

First, let's set the record straight: The department store had its moniker a full decade before the real estate company of the same name. So why was the name "Century 21" chosen? Before the department store opened its doors in 1961, "the founders heard about the upcoming [1964] World's Fair [in Queens], and they took inspiration from an exhibit called 'Century 21: The World of Tomorrow,' " Century 21 spokeswoman Heather Feinmel says. "The name represents the department store's mission to revamp traditional retailing."

In addition to the former East River Savings

Credit: David Caplan

Century 21's flagship is indeed one store -- in six separate buildings

In addition to the former East River Savings Bank branch, a neo-Classical Art Deco gem built in 1933, that houses the western portion of the store, Century 21's flagship occupies part of five other office buildings. So if you kick off your shopping trip on the store's west side (above, right) and leave by exiting through the women's shoes department on the Broadway side (above, left), you've walked through six buildings.

There are several clues to the building's former

Credit: David Caplan

Remnants of the East River Savings Bank branch that previously occupied Century 21 are everywhere

There are several clues to the building's former self: The Cortlandt Street exterior entrance features stainless steel eagles perched atop the doors, with the bank's name and date of incorporation (pictured above: top row, left). Another obvious clue? The East River Savings Bank depository (pictured above: top row, right), also on the Cortlandt Street entrance. And on the Church Street side of the store, look closely, and you'll see the outline of the bank's name, left from lettering that was removed (pictured above, bottom row). Those exterior features are in addition to the interior's gorgeous vaulted ceilings, mahogany wall fixtures and marble floors. Interestingly enough, Century 21 was located in what was known as "Radio Row" between 1921 and 1966. It was nicknamed that for its plethora of radio and electronic equipment shops. But beginning in 1961 -- the same year the Century 21 flagship opened -- the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey began evicting shops to prepare for construction of the World Trade Center.

The now-defunct architectural firm Walker & Gillette --

Credit: Emilio Guerra

The firm that designed East River Savings Bank designed housing projects and amusement parks

The now-defunct architectural firm Walker & Gillette -- it ceased operations in 1945 -- may be long gone, but its legacy lives on. Countless projects of many varied uses across the New York City area were designed by the firm, including the Consulate General of Italy on Park Avenue (pictured), office buildings (57th Street's Fuller Building, for example), amusement parks (the Playland amusement park in Rye, N.Y.) and the Jacob Riis Houses public housing project on the Lower East Side.

When the store opened in April 1961, it

Credit: Century 21

The Century 21 flagship is nearly 37 times larger today than it was when it first opened

When the store opened in April 1961, it was a mere 3 floors, totaling 6,000 square feet. Today, the store spans seven floors and totals over 220,000 square feet. Century 21 has nine other locations, located in Brooklyn, Queens, and on Long Island, as well as New Jersey and Pennsylvania (Pictured above, the store during the early 1960s).

Ernie Schimel, the company's longest-serving employee, kicked off

Credit: Century 21

If you bought clothes by a European designer there before 2014, chances are this man chose it

Ernie Schimel, the company's longest-serving employee, kicked off Century 21's business with European designers but left last year after 52 years with the company.

Not too many store owners write, record and

Credit: Century 21

Century 21 co-owner Eddie Gindi is a musician. You may hear his music playing in the store

Not too many store owners write, record and produce the music that's broadcast in their own stores. But Gindi does. In 2013, he wrote and recorded a track called "Survivor Tree," commemorating the victims of 9/11. Sales from the single raised over $275,000 for the charity Tuesday's Children. Then, in 2014, along with his band Men In My Head, along with rapper 50 Cent, he released the track "Century Love," also benefiting the charity.

Century 21 owners Isaac

Credit: Century 21

Have a compliment or complaint? Keep an eye out for these guys while shopping

Century 21 owners Isaac "IG" Gindi, far left, and Raymond Gindi, far right, -- they're brothers and co-CEOs -- as well as their cousins, executive vice presidents Eddie Gindi (second from left) and Isaac Gindi (second from right), also brothers, regularly walk through the store, speaking with sales associates and chatting with customers. So if you want to gush about the store's selection of underwear or demand more sweaters in hot pink, don't be shy. They're much more affable than a suggestion box.

While they may not admit it, celebrities love

Credit: Talent Resources

Among the throngs of tourists and locals, look closely: Celeb spottings are common at Century 21

While they may not admit it, celebrities love a bargain. Kim Kardashian, "Extra" host Mario Lopez, "The Hills" alum Kristin Cavallari, pictured, and "The Sopranos" alum Jamie-Lynn Sigler have visited the store. Sometimes they fly under the radar -- sometimes they don't. So keep an eye for those who look a bit too conspicuously-dressed. (Read: Sunglasses and oversized hats).

The department store's owners weren't so sure they

Credit: Century 21

The Century 21 flagship nearly never re-opened after the September 11 attacks

The department store's owners weren't so sure they would reopen the flagship after the 9/11 attacks. Located across the street from the World Trade Center, the store's exterior (pictured, the Church Street entrance) and interior was heavily damaged. But the owners decided to reopen it in the summer of 2002 -- believing Lower Manhattan would rebound -- to the delight of thousands of customers who waited in long lines on re-opening day so they could get a receipt as a souvenir, according to reports.

Sneha Anne Philip was a physician who was

Credit: Getty Images

The September 11 mystery of Sneha Anne Philip

Sneha Anne Philip was a physician who was last seen on Sept. 10, 2001 by surveillance cameras at Century 21, where she bought some merchandise, according to her American Express bill. She may -- or may not -- have returned to the Lower Manhattan apartment she shared with her husband at some point that night or the next morning. Her whereabouts for the remainder of Sept. 10 were always murky and never confirmed. But due to the proximity to World Trade Center and medical training, her family believed she died helping victims of the September 11 attacks. But a police investigation led investigators to conclude she died from another cause. Citing the evidence from the police report, a Surrogate's Court judge denied her family's petition to have her declared a victim of the attacks. But in 2008, a New York State appeals court overturned a lower-court ruling and declared that she had been a victim of the attacks.

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