January 28, 2013

Why I’m Giving Century 21 Another Chance This Year


A local bargain shopper has a change of heart when it comes to one of NYC’s most frenzied department stores.

By Hillary Chura


There is only so much choice my mommy brain can handle—especially when it comes to shopping—which is why I’d always avoided Century 21, that mecca of merchandise mess.

It’s partly because we don’t live near the department store, but also because my first exposure was during the torture that is Christmas shopping. Whatever the reason, I was never ever ever going back. Hearing friends’ tales of smashing deals at Century 21 did not sway my conviction. Nor did seeing shoppers trying to wedge their bulging Century 21 bags onto crowded subway cars (another kind of hell altogether—for everyone involved).

But when I found myself hobbling near Ground Zero in boots I once had deemed comfy walking partners, I decided to do my part to support the economy, and I stepped into the Century 21 on Cortlandt Street.

Once I’d swapped out my boots for a pair of shiny black Taryn Rose loafers ($239 at retail, $70 at Century 21) and picked up some red Cole Haan driving moccasins with leather so soft you could spread it across toast ($198 cut to $32)—just in case Taryn Rose betrayed me—it was up to the sixth floor for children’s clothing.

The selection of Kenneth Cole, D&G, Baby Guess, Civil Society, and other brands I’m too unhip to recognize had me cursing my pudding-like biceps for being too weak to handle the heavy loads of clothes. Unlike most boys’ departments, clothes came in flavors other than blue, grey, red, and white. And there were even outfits my sartorially fastidious mother would embrace. Grand total for the day: $192 for $846 in merchandise.

I had been shopping for our 6- and 9-year-old sons (who were mercifully absent), and I took extra care to eye trouser length, fabric feel, and style to ensure I’d need not camp out in the refund line within the next 30 days.

Upon returning home, I found my younger son wanting everything in his stack. As for the elder, everything fit but was rejected for, well, I don’t know why. I’m trying to decide whether to get a refund for his castoffs or save them for his little brother, who liked the clothes but could well change his mind once he grows into them, possibly by next Thursday.

But it’s not all wine and roses at Century 21. You wouldn’t know by the customer service that some 8% of Americans are out of work. Lines were long, shoes where mismatched, one worker couldn’t locate the elevator—but other staffers were so detailed and helpful they’d have been right at home in stores where D&G et al. weren’t marked down. And when a retailer charges dirt-low prices while occupying some of the most expensive real estate on the planet, customers are bound to see cutbacks somewhere. So I can wait in line, and I can match my own shoes. And, heck, with my comfortable new loafers, I can even find the elevator myself.

Hillary Chura writes our Le$$er Parenting column where she helps New Yorkers parent for less. She lives in Manhattan with her sons and husband.

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