Al Gindi, founder of the family owned and operated Century 21 Department Stores, died of natural causes on July 28 at the age of 96.
The self-made entrepreneur and leader in the Sephardic community launched the first Century 21 store in 1961 in downtown Manhattan on Cortlandt Street, along with his late cousin Sonny Gindi. During their stewardship, five Century 21 stores were opened but they built the infrastructure, which enabled the next generation of Gindis to expand the business to other locations, primarily in the New York metro area. Currently there are 15 locations. Before opening Century 21, Gindi ran a small chain of children’s wear stores called G&L on Fulton Street in downtown Brooklyn.
Though off-price businesses such as Filene’s Basement and Loehmann’s were started before Century 21, Al Gindi was nevertheless considered an innovator in the off-price format for fashion retailing, which today is among retailing’s healthiest sectors.
Within the sector, after almost six decades in business, Century 21 remains among the most heavily trafficked off-pricers in the nation with an image of offering higher-end brand and designer goods than other off-pricers. The store’s loyal following, which includes a high percentage of international tourists, was built without advertising.
“My father had a very strong personality,” said his son Raymond, who serves co-chief executive officer of Century 21 Department Stores. “At the beginning, he bought every line — men’s, ladies’ and kids’. He was very detailed-oriented and part of every decision. And 20 years later, he brought in a second generation to lead the business.”
“He was very big on ethics and forged amazing vendor relations,” said Isaac “IG” Gindi, co-ceo of Century 21, and another son of Al Gindi. “He was very personable, took an interest in each vendor, treated them as friends. They felt connected to my dad. He stood by his word and made sure bills were paid on time, without making reductions or charging back. His handshake was good and vendors knew it. It was always a win-win.”
Up until his mid-80s, Al Gindi remained active in the business, but suffered a stroke in 2004. He was a resident of Brooklyn. Along with Isaac and Raymond, he is survived by his wife Shirley, two other children Terri and Ronni, and his grandchildren.