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New York's Century 21 Stores Plan to Relaunch in South Korea - Kate Stockrahm

HAYLEY ZHAO, HOST: Century 21 stores announced that they will be relaunching after declaring bankruptcy in September. The New York based company says they plan to open a brand new nine-story location in the fall of this year.

ARCELIA MARTIN, HOST: The twist? That store will be in South Korea. Kate Stockrahm reports.

KATE STOCKRAHM, BYLINE: Standing outside a former Century 21 location at 66th and Broadway, the relaunch of a beloved brand seems a long way off. The revolving doors are motionless, taped with paper signs that read “STORE CLOSED'' in capital letters.

STOCKRAHM: Century 21 was started 60 years ago by the Gindi family. After the bankruptcy went through, the family and a private investor purchased the Century 21 brand name and logo back at auction. That cost 9 million dollars, a big leap from the starting bid of 800,000.

STOCKRAHM: The market might have been surprised by the final cost of the Century 21 logo, but Professor Kathryn Harrigan of Columbia Business School says buying back your brand after bankruptcy is not unusual.

KATHRYN HARRIGAN: I've seen this before, where entrepreneurs … just don't have enough cash to pay their bills. And then go back and pick off using savings that were not committed to the company, personal savings, and buying off whatever was valuable, and going off and starting the company someplace else.

STOCKRAHM: So, it’s relatively common to keep the name and logo even when a brand goes under. But why move from New York City, America’s fashion capital, to Busan, South Korea?

HARRIGAN: Almost everything that is kind of trendy would probably be popular in your high fashion Asian markets... so...launching some Century 21 stores in South Korea is simply relying on the fact that it probably had a following among trendy, young upscale shoppers who might recognize the name.

STOCKRAHM: Century 21’s new president, Marc Benitez, said in an email that Century 21 was for many years a must-go destination for tourists visiting New York from Asia. He noted that the Gindi family had already reached a deal to bring the brand to Korea before the pandemic. He said he believes Korea is one of the safest markets to open a brick and mortar store. He also said the company has plans to reopen in the US.

ARLINA BOROKOVA-COLE: Well, I'm excited.

STOCKRAHM: That’s Arlina Borokova-Cole. She’s a children’s book author living in Brooklyn. She says that even after her nearby location on 86th Street closed, she still regularly sports her favorite Century 21 purchases.

BOROKOVA-COLE: I mean, I just gotta say that probably about 85% of my wardrobe is from Century, so it's like, we used to go there a lot… The jacket I wore today, actually, in the snow, was also from Century!

STOCKRAHM: Arlina may have to wait a while for her next Century 21 shopping spree. Marc Benitez said there is no direct timeline for relaunching the stores in New York City.

STOCKRAHM: Kate Stockrahm, Columbia Radio News.

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