Shoppers Still Missing Century 21 in Bay Ridge

The giant signs alerting shoppers to the presence of Century 21 are still on the building – more than a year after the famous department store closed. (Photo: Paula Katinas)

‘86th Street hasn’t been the same’

BAY RIDGE — The Century 21 Department Store on 86th Street closed its doors in December 2020, and more than a year later, the massive retail space on one of Brooklyn’s busiest shopping strips remains an empty shell — a symbol of the lingering effect the COVID-19 pandemic on the city’s businesses.

Now there is a renewed effort by the property owner, ASG Equities, to find tenants for the 19,800-square-foot site. ASG Equities recently announced the hiring of RIPCO Real Estate to handle the search. 

Bay Ridge residents are cautiously optimistic. 

“I hope they find a new store to open up there soon; 86th Street hasn’t been the same since Century 21 closed,” said Eileen Loughlin, a St. Anselm Church parishioner who often shopped there, sometimes after mass, which is just four blocks away.

RIPCO is also handling other Bay Ridge properties, including 502 86th St., which formerly housed a TJ Maxx store and now stands empty as well.

The closing of Century 21 was a big blow to 86th Street, a shopping strip containing more than 100 stores and shops between Fourth Avenue and Fort Hamilton Parkway. 

The department store, which was located at 472 86th St. and was open for 60 years, was considered an anchor of the 86th Street Bay Ridge Business Improvement District because it attracted shoppers from all over Brooklyn and provided foot traffic for other nearby shops.

“People who went to Century 21 would also grab something to eat at the local diner or go into other stores along the corridor. So Century’s absence has had triple effects on other businesses,” said Josephine Beckmann, district manager of Brooklyn Community Board 10.

The department store was an economic engine for reasons other than the shoppers it attracted. “They employed a lot of people from right here in the neighborhood. You could walk a couple of blocks and have a job,” Loughlin said.

Century 21 was one of nearly 6,000 businesses across New York City that closed in 2020 due to lost revenue caused by the pandemic. The Partnership for New York City, a business group, estimated that at least one-third of the businesses that closed due to COVID will never reopen.

According to a 2020 year-end report from the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, even businesses that managed to stay afloat suffered significant pandemic-related financial losses. Eighty percent of the borough’s businesses lost revenue; 74% had fewer customers than before the pandemic and 51% increased their debt in 2020.

Beckmann said the effort by the owners to find new tenants for the Century 21 property is a hopeful sign.

“I hear very often from residents who are concerned about 86th Street. But I’m optimistic that we’ll have a variety of new businesses that will come and fill that void,” she said.

Dan Texeira, a St. Anselm parishioner who is president of the Merchants of Third Avenue in Bay Ridge, said he hopes new tenants are found soon. “You need to fill those storefronts,” he said.

Texeira thinks the Century 21 property, which took up several storefronts, will be subdivided and then leased to smaller retailers. 

“I don’t see a big box store coming in there. How much can you pay in rent? Times are still tough,” he said.