UPPER WEST SIDE — The discounts are just as deep, but Century 21's new Upper West Side store is sleeker, tidier, and more shopper-friendly than its downtown flagship.
Shoppers got their first glimpse of the store's Lincoln Square location on Thursday with a "soft opening" event for customers in the store's VIP loyalty program. The VIP-only shopping continues until Sunday, Sept. 18 and the store opens to the general public on Sept. 22.
Century 21 aficionados will notice several differences between the new location on Broadway and West 66th Street and the Cortlandt Street original, said Director of Organizational Effectiveness Boyd Howell, who stood at the entrance in a snappy pinstripe suit with a gold Century 21 lapel pin.
"It's a new concept for us," Howell said. "It has a boutique, luxurious feeling to it."
Merchandise in the five-level, 60,000 square-foot store is grouped by designer, which means "brand-driven guests can come in and find their brand instead of having to dig through hoping they'll find something," Howell said.
The new store has cash registers in several locations, and express lines for shoppers with four items or less, to keep traffic flowing in and out. Managers are working on keeping the right amount of merchandise in the store, Howelll said, so racks will be well-stocked, but won't get messy and jumbled — a frequent problem at the downtown store.
Century 21 employees are also sporting a new look. The downtown store's aprons have been replaced by simple black pants paired with a black top that's chic, yet comfortable, Howell said. Name tags now go high on the right side of the employees' body, so customers can quickly see them, and the shirts were designed to be breathable. "The better the employees feel, the happier the guest is," Howell said.
The new Century 21 replaced a Barnes & Noble bookstore, which many Upper West Siders felt was a blow to a neighborhood that prizes culture. Howell said he understood that some might have been sorry to see the bookstore go out of business, but he noted that the Century 21 store will employ more than 300 people, and provide clothes for every income level.
"The expansion is giving another area of the city a chance for everyone to look good all the time," Howell said.
Serious-looking bargain hunters carefully picked their way through the racks on Thursday in search of a sweet deal. A few men sat quietly on the sidelines of the mostly female crowd, guarding shopping bags.
Shoppers praised the new store for its tidy, organized feel and wide variety of merchandise, which ranged from high-end handbags to exercise clothes.
"It's very cool," said 25-year-old Jessica Ramsey, of the Upper West Side, standing near a display of rabbit fur "boot toppers" that ran $39.97. "It's a little over-stimulating. There's every kind of style that's out there for clothing."
Maguy Naparstek, who stopped going to the downtown Century 21 because it was too messy, said she was glad she made the trek to the new store from her Upper East Side home. She was impressed to find a black floor-length evening gown with elaborate lace and a soft lining for just $129.97, though she didn't recognize the designer's name.
"You have something for everyone," Naparstek said. "You could go really high-end, but they also have just regular clothes."
The store had a rainbow of pashminas on display for the low price of $34.97, and elegant Elie Tahari suits for just $99.
Upper West Side mom Esther Penn and her daughter Laurel said the Lincoln Square location was a significant improvement over the crowded downtown store. "The other one is too chaotic," Esther Penn said. "It's hard to see anything."
The Penns said they were sad to see Barnes & Noble close. "I miss Barnes & Noble, but if it has to be something, I'm glad it's this," said Laurel Penn. "We need more discount stores."