Century 21 Department Store: 10 Years After Sept. 11

Small business owners are some of the true heroes responsible for rebuilding the economic vitality of the Financial District after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Isaac Gindi, co-owner of Century 21 Department Stores, which flagship store is located across the street from Ground Zero, is one of those heroes. He made the decision to keep the store stationed downtown after the attacks; he believed in the area and he refused to compromise his beliefs for a bottom line.

In the end, sticking with the downtown community turned out to be a great move not only for the store, but for the entire area. “We were the only store open in the area for the time,” said Gindi. “It gave life.”

The store is now expanding and planning to add 50% more merchandise in three more selling floors. The renovations should coincide when the World Trade Center is finished.

Here’s what Gindi has to say about running a business after the attacks and why he stuck it out.

FBN: How has your company evolved since Sept. 11?

Gindi: After Sept. 11, it was like a war zone down here and we were closed for six months. We had a partners meeting, all the Gindi’s are civic-minded people and we decided to stick it out because we wanted to defeat the terrorists. We felt by staying here we would prove we could beat them.

We got offers, many offers, to move and relocate, but we decided to stay here.

FBN: How long did it take to get back on your feet?

Gindi: It took six months to get back on our feet.  It was amazing because at the time we only had three stores and our flagship store was 50% of our volume. We were very close to going out of business.

We had $30 million worth of merchandise on order that we could not liquidate because we were closed for six months. I went to my Uncle Al Gindi who was the CEO at the time. He had survived the depression, and he told us to call the vendors and see if they would accept cancellations. We called. All the vendors took the cancellations. We told them we were going to stick it out and going to help rebuild the downtown area. We were the only anchor down here at the time.

FBN: What was the mood like during the rebuilding process?

Gindi: Everybody was very patriotic. We rebuilt the store quickly because everybody had a common goal. Never in your life have you seen anything get done so quickly.

FBN: What was the biggest challenge?

Gindi: We were the only store opened down here. The men’s department was destroyed. The rest of the building wasn’t so bad, but it was dusty and contaminated. We had to do major construction in the bank building, but the rest of the place needed to be put back together and re-stocked. Despite there being no subways to get to us, when we re-opened, there were lines around the block. When we opened the door, we were jammed. I was crying when we opened the door. Mayor Bloomberg was here.

The people came, but of course, it was tough. For three to four years, we weren’t doing the business that we used to. Then, everything started to come back. New Yorkers came out in droves to support us. It was a beautiful thing.

FBN: What is your advice for other small business owners in a time of crisis?

Gindi: It’s your attitude. We could have relocated, it would be easy for us to move uptown and into different areas, but we felt very strongly about the area so we didn’t.

FBN: How’s business been lately?

Gindi: Within the last two to three years the area has started to really pick up, but it was rough up until that point. People started to come down and we are proud we had an integral part of it. It wasn’t a business decision, it was a moral one. If it purely a business decision, we would have closed.