"If you know, you know. And if you don’t, I feel sorry for you."

That’s what people always said about Century 21, the beloved 60-year-old chain of 13 retail stores that began in New York and now has locations in Florida and New Jersey.

“Century” as REAL New Yorkers called it, was iconic, and its downtown New York flagship location attracted fashionistas who really knew their designers, but didn’t feel like paying full price for them. It was legitimately the first designer discount shop in Manhattan, and up until now was able to procure clothes from designers who refused to discount their lines at any other shops.

Think of it as Marshall’s on steroids, the difference being that designers like Christian Louboutin and Narciso Rodriguez were willing to put their upscale couture clothing there, when they wouldn’t be caught dead in the likes of a Marshall’s or TJ Maxx. Century had caché.

Enter your number to get our free mobile app

Every New Yorker knew about Century, and endured the lines and crowds in its very tight aisles and awkwardly shaped selling floors to get the best of the best in fashion, shows, housewares, gifts and jewelry for less. Its iconic bag with its Uber-recognizable red logo was emblazoned “New York’s Best-kept Secret.” But it was far from a secret. it was even featured in an episode of Sex and the City, because of COURSE, Carrie Bradshaw would frequent the shop for her Manolos and her Chanels.

Eventually, Century expanded to Brooklyn and then other stores in the New York metro area, including Elizabeth, Paramus and Morristown in New Jersey. The day the first New Jersey store opened, fashion-minded New Jersey women and men across the state cheered.

And now, that location, along with the others will be just a memory just like all the other retailers that have fallen due to our long national nightmare. Century 21’s problems were similar to other retailers that suffered loss of business during the COVID-19 shutdowns. But then, after an insurance company refused to pay a $175 million payout due to coronavirus losses, the company announced it would file for bankruptcy.

Worse, it also announced the shuttering of all 13 of its locations. While other retailers during the pandemic were forced to file bankruptcy, many of them intend to continue operations. But for Century 21, that business interruption insurance payment (or lack thereof) was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

“Had we received any meaningful portion of the insurance proceeds, we would have been able to save thousands of jobs and weather the storm," Century 21 co-CEO Raymond Gindi said in a statement.

Century 21 fans like me are in shock.

And we know that it’s the end of an era. If you knew, you just knew.

The post above reflects the thoughts and observations of New Jersey 101.5 talk show host Judi Franco. Any opinions expressed are Judi's own.