Eddie Gindi met the family Tuesday. No one who ever pledged to a loved one could have been more solicitous.
Executive vice president and co-owner of Century 21, the latest and, arguably, most exotic retailer to commit to Philadelphia, Gindi promised success, devotion, and a boundless future.
"We are honored to be part of Philadelphia," he told an enthusiastic crowd at the Union League. "We want to alter the retail landscape here."
"We did not want to open a store and say, 'See you later.' That is not who we are. We want, we need, to be part of the fabric of this community. We want to give back."
Century 21, known for discount designer apparel and housewares, announced in April it would open a 100,000-square-foot store in the Gallery at Eighth and Market Streets in October.
The store, expected to anchor a rebirth of the Center City shopping mall, will be the first Century 21 outside the New York region, where the chain has developed a cultlike following. Century 21's decision to expand here is considered a coup for the city, and for Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust (PREIT), which owns the Gallery.
Gindi spoke Tuesday to a meeting of the Central Philadelphia Development Corp., whose members include retailers, law firms, and other businesses that make up Center City.
Those in attendance first heard from CPDC executive director Paul Levy, Brickstone Realty Corp. president John Connors, and CBRE/FAMECO senior vice president Larry Steinberg, all of whom described the East Market Street area as poised for renewal.
Given their vested interests, a listener could be forgiven any skepticism. Gindi, however, represented a more independent arbiter, who offered the same optimistic outlook.
In fact, he said his firm, which has opened only eight stores since 1961, looked long and hard before concluding Philadelphia had all the attributes needed for success.
"We were very inspired by what we saw here in terms of the development of Philadelphia as retail and residential center," he said. "We think Philadelphia can be a retail mecca. The men and women in Philadelphia are fashion-savvy, diverse, creative, and artistic. They get it."
Nor was he daunted by the somewhat dowdy reputation of the Gallery, which has long failed to live up to its supposed promise.
The Gallery was not the first less-than-successful mall Century 21 has taken a chance on, Gindi said, only to prove that the retailer's drawing power can spark a turnaround.
"New major retailers followed us because we were anchors of the mall," Gindi said. "Now those malls are thriving."
The key to Century 21's success, he said, was the value it offered its customers. The retailer has built a reputation on selling designer goods and apparel at stark discounts achieved through special relationships with vendors and opportunistic wholesale purchases.
"The Armani suit you can by down the street for $2,000, you can buy from us for $500," Gindi said, adding in stage whisper, "Don't tell anybody."
But Century 21's mission was more than saving people money, he said.
"It is about giving our customers a way to feel better about themselves," he said. "They walk out of our store wearing a designer suit, and they feel like the person on Madison Avenue."
Or Walnut Street.