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BY ALINE REYNOLDS | Get ready for a new and improved department store in Lower Manhattan.
Century 21’s Downtown branch is expanding three floors up, widening its clothing aisles and shifting its merchandise check-in system from the street into the store, according to company officials who presented the renovation plans to Community Board 1’s Financial District Committee on June 1.
The famed department store, which turns 50 this year, will be adding 60,000 square feet to its existing four-story retail space on Cortlandt Street. New elevators will transport customers directly from the basement to the sixth floor of the building once it is altered.
Construction will begin in July and should be completed by mid-to-late next year, according to Betty Cohen, Century 21’s director of corporate relations and public affairs.
“I love Century 21. However, I’m kind of claustrophobic in department stores,” said committee member Mariama James. “I’m hoping you’ll use some of the additional space to spread apart what you already have, and not add additional products and services.”
“To get the red buggies through the aisles is very hard,” Cohen admitted. “We don’t want [customers] to put up with the inconvenience. We want them to enjoy the experience.”
The department store will also open a café for customers who take shopping breaks and don’t wish to leave the store, and add dressing rooms, cash registers and restrooms. Cohen assured the committee that customers wouldn’t be standing in lines as long as they do now.
Century 21 is also modifying its procedure of unloading goods so that employees check in store merchandise inside rather than outside the store. “Right now, the situation is, when we bring in the trucks to unload the merchandise, there are two freight elevators, and most of it has to be checked in on the street,” Cohen explained. The new system entails creating 1,000 square feet of offloading space on each floor and adding two high-speed freight elevators to expedite the process, according to David D’Amico, Century 21’s director of store development and construction.
The new unloading shifts should be finished by noon daily to minimize disruptions, D’Amico said, and should lessen vehicular and pedestrian traffic along Dey Street, between Broadway and Church Streets, where the trucks are stationed.
Committee members praised the company’s renovation plan. “I think this is a terrific proposal — I like to see a key good neighbor of the community making a commitment to stay down here,” said C.B. 1 Vice Chairperson Catherine McVay Hughes.
Century 21 is “an incredibly good neighbor,” echoed committee member Michael Ketring. “If anything,” he said, “they’re locking themselves into binding commitments.”
Committee member Pat Moore, who lives steps away from the store, is especially excited about the prospect of more dressing rooms.
“You don’t have to buy something, take it home, and take it back [if it doesn’t fit]. You can just go right out on the floor and exchange everything,” she said.