The Buffalo News
Shopping in NYC: So Many Stores, So Little Time
New York City–There’s no place like it; the sights, the sounds, the stores. I’ve had the opportunity to visit New York City twice in the past couple of years. Since I went with “the girls,” close friends and my daughter, naturally shopping was high on our agendas. Our only complaint was that there were so many stores and so little time.
Getting around in New York
We traveled to New York by train both times, so we did not have a car at our disposal, which actually is a good thing, because you do not want to drive in New York City. Traffic is in perpetual gridlock and I hear parking prices are outrageous.
We picked hotels in Midtown Manhattan, so we could pretty much walk everywhere, except to Chinatown and lower Manhattan, which would have been a hike. We found that traveling by foot was the quickest way to get around and that it was the best way to experience the city. Before going, pick up a New York City map published by Mapeasy, which you can find locally at Barnes & Noble. In addition to streets, this map shows points of interest, stores, restaurants, and hotels.
We also used the double-decker tour buses to get around town. While they are not the quickest or the least expensive way to get around, you find out a lot about New York and the buses take you to all the high points of the city. I recommend New York Sightseeing by Grayline (www.newyorksightseeing.com). For about $50 you get hop-on, hop-off service for 48 hours, plus a nighttime city lights tour. Of course, you can always get around New York by bus, subway, or cab.
The World’s Largest Store
No trip to New York would be complete without a trip to Macy’s Herald Square, known as the World’s Largest Store. Now, I know we have Macy’s here in Buffalo, but shopping at the New York store is a unique experience; think Miracle on 34th Street and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Of course the first thing you notice is the size: nine floors of retail space, over one million square feet, including eight restaurants located throughout the store. My teenage daughter thought she died and went to heaven when we arrived at the junior clothing department and the entire floor had clothing in just her size. She literally did not know where to look first! If you’re shopping with younger kids, there’s even a McDonald’s on the floor with the children’s department.
Upscale shopping on 5th Avenue
While Macy’s has merchandise (and prices) similar to what we have in Buffalo, for a real eye-opening experience, check out some of the exclusive shops on 5th Avenue, many located between 49th and 58th streets. Here you’ll find stores like Sak’s 5th Avenue, Bergdorf Goodman, Gucci, Louis Vuiton, Prada, and FAO Schwarz.
I’ve only ventured into a couple of these, since the price tags tend to give me sticker shock. On my most recent trip with my daughter, Jennifer, and my friend Linda, we did some browsing in the dress department of Sak’s. I don’t know about you, but I can’t imagine paying $900 for a sun dress or $2,400 for a simple black jacket. Needless to say, we didn’t make any purchases there.
We also went to the toy store, FAO Schwarz, which was pretty interesting. Doormen, dressed as toy soldiers, open the door as you enter. Once inside, head up to the second floor and look for the giant keyboard, immortalized by actor Tom Hanks in the 1988 movie Big. Jennifer and I got in line for the opportunity to slip off our shoes and dance on that same keyboard for a few minutes. If you want to take it home with you, it can be yours for $250,000.
Since my sons like building with Legos, I had a great appreciation for the Lego structures that were built in the store, including a life-size Batman. They also have a huge candy department, called FAO Schweetz, however at $13 a pound, it’s a bit pricey, so don’t get carried away.
Bargains abound in Chinatown
Shopping in Chinatown is quite different from 5th Avenue. In Chinatown you’ll find row upon row of tiny, crowded shops and street vendors offering you bargains on knock-off “Coach” and “Gucci” handbags, belts, ties, sunglasses, and more. You are actually expected to haggle for the price.
My sister-in-law, Sandy loves purses and she always manages to get some bargains when she travels to New York. However, the first time she went, it was a quite an experience for her. Sandy and her husband, John, had gone to New York to visit their friend Mike, who took them to Chinatown. When the first purse vendor approached them, Sandy went into a warehouse building with the girl, going up stairs and through some secret doors to where the purses were. However, she didn’t see anything she wanted there and continued to go with other vendors to look for the purse she wanted.
One vendor took them into a mall-type building; John and Mike stayed in the hall outside. “All of a sudden, they closed all the doors and said that I had to stay in here a little while,” said Sandy. “At least I wasn’t alone; there were other shoppers in the room as well.” They were let out a few minutes later.
In the meanwhile, John was not too happy that Sandy was in there. Apparently there was a lady haggling with a vendor over the price of a handbag and she threatened to get the police and all the sellers got scared.
“That was three years ago and we still go back every year. I no longer have to go on those scary journeys into vacant buildings. When I go, I know what I’m looking for and what to ask them. John doesn’t mind at all anymore because I have got so good and fast shopping there.”
If there’s a particular “name” or style of purse you want, bring a picture of it (from a catalog or the internet). “Most stores on the street have purses out, but they don’t have the designer tags on them, you have to ask for what you want or show them the picture,” said Sandy. The funny thing about Chinatown is that you’ll ask them if they have “Coach” or other brand and they will say no, but then two seconds later they will come back to you and take you to their backroom, which is full of fake purses.” You can expect to pay about $40-50 for one of these purses.
While you’re in Chinatown or neighboring little Italy, be sure to eat in one of the numerous restaurants. Usually the waiters are outside trying to encourage you to come in and eat. One of my favorite places to stop for desserts is Ferrara’s Bakery and Café on Grand Street, which has been in business for over 100 years.
Shopping amid historic architecture.
During my most recent trip I discovered two treasurers within walking distance from each other that combine historic architecture with shopping. The First is Grand Central Terminal (www.grandcentralterminal.com), at 42nd Streetand Park Avenue, which first opened in 1913. It was the rail hub of New York City until the late 1950’s, when railroad travel declined. The building fell into disrepair and there was talk of razing it. Fortunately, it was granted landmark status and restored to its former grandeur during the 1980’s and 1990’s.
Today, it is truly the heart of New York City, with 20 restaurants and over 50 specialty retailers. In addition, it is also a transportation hub for the city’s subway and bus system and for local commuter trails.
We especially enjoyed browsing in the Grand Central Market, which had numerous specialty food shops, with meats, produce, baked goods, spices, seafood, and more. My friend Linda was really impressed by some of the baked goods. She tried to convince me to buy her a white chocolate birthday cake, but I told her it wasn’t her birthday!
Just around the corner from Grand Central Terminal is the New York Public Library, at 42nd Streetand 5th Avenue, which has a really nice gift shop on the first floor, with many unique books and reading related items that you won’t find anywhere else. After browsing the shop, check out the rest of the library; the enormous main reading room on the 3rd floor is spectacular.
Behind the library you’ll find Bryant Park, a popular place to people watch while in New York. It’s also a great spot to eat lunch, with many tables and chairs for public use. Since we had really nice weather during our visit, we picked up food from a nearby deli and ate in the park.
No trip to New York City would be complete without visiting Times Square, the area surrounding 42nd Streetand Broadway. Most shops are open to 10pm, and some are even open until midnight. Here you’ll find a three-story Toys R Us with an indoor Ferris wheel, a shop selling just M & M’s items, a Hershey store, and a few blocks away at Rockefeller Center, the NBC Experience store, with merchandise related to shows on NBC. You’ll also find numerous shops in and around Times Square selling the usual tourist trinkets, like mugs, cups, T-shirts and the like, to take to the folks back home.
With all these stores in New York City, it’s really easy to get carried away. You might even have to buy an extra suitcase to bring home all your purchases, just like some folks we met on the train had to.