Shopping in New York: A Mere Mortal’s Guide
Tracey Barnett © November 2006
Admit it, you’re going to New York so you can finally explain why the scarlet letter “S” for shopping has been secretly emblazoned on your undies since birth. You have a mission. You’ve heard that everything is cheaper in America– economies of scale, huge choice, international retailers-but after you’ve got that plane ticket in your hot little hands it all adds up to– where do I start?
Let’s get real. Few of us are in the Jimmy-Choo-I-love-you category. You are not above dropping a mortgage payment or two so you can slink away with an extra suitcase full of gear that no one has at home. But Sex in the City is not your life. You just want something different for a change so even the cashier at the grocery store notices.
Cut and paste this, you over-enthusiastic VISA-biters. Here is a mere mortal’s guide of where to buy on the cheap but with style in New York City. New Yorkers would yawn at the big familiar names, but hey the grass is always greener. They think chocolate fish are exotica. Ignorance isn’t bliss when it comes to savvy shopping; it’s just stupid. Read this and weep.
H&M Swedish giant H&M is the place where cheating in fashion is legal. Yes, you have to get there in the morning if you don’t want to wait in a queue for the dressing rooms. Yes, it is overwhelming, with men and children’s floors in the larger stores. But get your sweet cheeks down to the Fifth Avenue flagship store and dig in to everyday wearable clothes that are high-style rip-offs of the more spendiferous duds you may find further down this list.
Price points seem to hover around the magic $24.95 – $29.95USD, with the really expensive piece barely touching $70. Sale rack prices dive well below that. Hello? By standards at home it’s like buying groceries. Warning, they can sell out of something in hours. So if you see something you like but still want to shop further, buy it. Their return policy is terrific. If you don’t like crowds, get a life. This is New York City. Everyone shops here.
ZARA This Spanish chain will have those one or two pieces that four people in a single day will always ask where you bought it. Just shrug and murmur, “No comprende’ because Spain’s vibrant sensibilities in colour and pattern make this a great answer for what to wear to a movie or the office. A step up from H&M in price but worth it.
ANTHROPOLOGIE Alright, I lied. Maybe this one isn’t exactly dirt-cheap but if you go for funkier Kate Hudson meets Sienna Miller, land here. Their new Rockefeller Center flagship store is great with retro Old World crashing into hippie chic. Particularly impressive are their serious dresses that don’t feel serious at all.
You’ll find sleepwear, decorative housewares and even a good selection of funky prescription reading glasses. Never knew you wanted bitchin’ coat hooks? Great gift to bring home to the homies.
CANAL STREET Be very afraid. You step off the subway and you could swear you landed in an anti-retail universe. Stalls are filled with NYC T-shirts for $10, Pashima shawls for $8, leather belts for $3 and enough fake purses to make you think Prada is a football team. Haggle. This is where you buy the thanks-for-lending-me-the-airfare-Mum prezzies. Buy your Nana that “GET THE F*CK OUTTA MY F*CKIN FACE I GOT ENOUGH F*CKIN FRIENDS’ T-shirt. She needs to get in touch with her inner Tony Soprano.
CENTURY 21 This store may have crumbled during 9/11 being right across the street from the Twin Towers but it has more than risen from the ashes. If you are headed downtown to the site to pay your respects, stop in. It is an entire department store filled with trash or treasure from big name designers at discount prices.
MACY’S & BLOOMINGDALE’S Retail may feel like a dirty word at this point but the sheer hulk of these behemoths makes department stores at home look like Teletubby land. The secret that many touristas miss is that you get an automatic 10% off just by walking into customer service and showing a passport or foreign driver’s license. If you have an American host who doesn’t have a credit card with the store yet, they can open one and give you an additional 15% off for one day’s shopping. Not a bad way to spend the day with 25% off.
You’ve only begun to fight. Next lesson, Woodbury Common factory outlets and their positive influence on the path to self-actualisation. I swear.]
Want three diverse meals that scream ‘Nu Yawk’?
Lunch at Bloomingdale’s cafeteria Don’t sneer until you’ve tried Bloomies’ chicken salad sandwiches and their to-die-for humble fudge brownies. Relationships have crumbled over less.
Balthazar Book in advance for this buzzy French bistro with killer frites and everything else in between. A scene to be seen, but who’s noticing the celebrities when you can’t manage to lift your nose out of the trough-er, plate.
Carnegie Deli If you could describe what deli chefs could create after too many years of steroid use, these ridiculously sized sandwiches are your answer. Only one word can guarantee one’s personal safety, SHARE.
Need a place to stay to compensate for all that money saved?
The Rockefeller Center Hotel, Rockefeller Center 25 W. 51st Street  282-9620. Great midtown location across from Rockefeller Center. Brand new hotel with small, unimpressive lobby that gives way to handsome, comfortable rooms at a palatable price.
The Blakely, 136 West 55th Street 245-1800. Similar terrific location with Old World ambience and generous, luxuriously appointed rooms.
Hotel Gansvoort, 18 Ninth Avenue 206-6700. Planted in the uber-hip Meat Packing district, this expense account seductress pulls in designers and models that take over the spa turned nightclub in the evenings. Check out the amazing tattoo paintings in their Japanese restaurant, Ono. A Chloe Sevigny type indulgence.