It was over-the-top, being treated to four days in New York City at Christmastime by the generosity of a Fortune 100 company. Its beauty was breath-taking, with a heavy snow preceding our trip blanketing Central Park; and lights, garlands and trees accenting everything from doorways to ceilings (Saks' twinkling white lights strung along its ceilings and through tree limbs arching over every aisle is nothing short of glorious) to rooftops; and the temperatures, while nippy, were hardly bone-chilling. From Rockefeller Center to Times Square to The Met to The Park: New York was magical.
My promise to bring to you New York City bargains was ever-present in my mind as I pounded the pavements throughout mid-town Manhattan and much of the lower West Side. Due to the nature of our trip, I confess to spending much more time on Madison and Fifth Avenues than I did in Chelsea, Greenwich Village, SoHo and Chinatown, where bargains abound and where shops carry everything from the edgy to the kitschy to the fake to the cheap. So I'm going to share a little of both worlds with you. I also observed that in our corporate–and global–group, travelers from different parts of the world very much wanted to buy very different stuff. While this will seem overly-simplified and perhaps a bit stereotypical, the Western and Eastern Europeans desired American clothing (especially blue jeans), Clinique make-up, iPods and digital cameras, while folks from the Asia-Pacific rim shopped for expensive (Italian and French) handbags. Almost everyone was in search of some type of electronic device, with iPods and digital cameras being in the highest demand. The non-New Yorker Americans shopped for the run-of-the-mill, A-to-Z type bargain, looking for anything and everything that was either less expensive or more available than it is back home. As this Newsletter spins ’round the globe, I'll try to give everyone something to check out. Here goes:
If you travel to New York City during the Holidays, be prepared to pay dearly–or in blood–for a hotel room. They are simply not to be had; ones that have availability are in extremely high demand with prices out the roof. Our room at The Essex House overlooked Central Park and was absolutely glorious, but my pockets wouldn't be deep enough if I had to pay for it with my own MasterCard this time of year. One of NYC's best-kept secrets is the Riverside Tower Hotel at 80 Riverside Drive (corner of Riverside Drive and West 80th Street; phone 212-877-5200.) Check them out first before calling hotels at more popular locations.
Dining in NYC is a sport. Be prepared to play with the professionals. We enjoyed dinner at Michael Jordan's in Grand Central Terminal, lunch at the 21 Club and a dinner party in the Rainbow Room at Rockefeller Center, among many other special dining treats. (I can hardly mention our private dinner party atop the ABC Studios in Times Square as it was one of the most incredible views…as well as one of the most incredible experiences I've ever had and one which I'm sure I'll never have again). When my feet landed on NYC soil and I had to pay for things with my own nickel, I enjoyed a pressed sandwich at Europa Café. Also check out Cosi for cheap eats in the Big Apple. You would do just fine for a long weekend eating at either one of these places for breakfast, lunch and dinner…and they're scattered throughout the city.
Want something somewhere between Michael Jordan's and Cosi? Try Cafe Saks Fifth Avenue (611 5th Avenue); Bloomingdale's Le Train Bleu (1000 3rd Avenue); Bergdorf Goodman – Goodman's Cafe for Women (2 West 58th Street); Bergdorf Goodman – Goodman's Cafe 745 for Men (745 5th Avenue) or Fred's at Barneys (660 Madison Avenue). I also have always had good luck at little bakeries strung along the Upper East Side on Madison. There's nothing wrong with coffee and a bran muffin for lunch after all. Or hot roasted chestnuts from the street vendors. Yum!
Allen Edmonds (551 Madison Ave. around 55th St.; phone 212-308-8305) is having a sale on men's shoes right now. Men I spoke with found this to be irresistible. As most of their shoes are in the $200-300 price range, it's nice to think that one might save a little by buying now, if treads are wearing thin. And one of the best reasons for buying their stuff: you can send your shoes back to Allen Edmonds for re-soling….at least once before buying again.
Loehmann's (101 7th Avenue between 16th and 17th Streets; phone 212-352-0856) remains one of my longest-running favorites and is, by all counts, the grand dame of discount stores. I bought a fabulous pair of beaded flats by Kenneth Cole for less than $30. With black and red beads on a black satin background, they're perfect for Holiday parties (with longish black-sequined peasant skirts and glittery tops). Loehmann's stuff changes daily, so it's hit or miss. Keep checking. And get into "shopping mode" before you head over there; lines will be long, the building is on the hot-ish side and you may have to spend an inordinate amount of time searching for something wonderful in your size. But it's worth it.
Century 21(22 Cortlandt Street– Between Church and Broadway in Chinatown; phone 212-227-9092; http://www.c21stores.com) has been billed by native New Yorkers as the best discount place in the city and Zagat has given it top billing as well. Our guide dropped us off there for an hour's worth of shopping and I walked out with nothing. Nadda. Zero. Truthfully, it didn't grab me. Too much stuff. Poorly displayed. Not enough variety to make me want to pull out my wallet. But the Europeans on-board were thrilled. Great boots and shoes, apparently. And lots of Ralph Lauren fashion jewelry at ridiculously low prices. Handbags, too. Also spotted: trendoid Oliver Peoples sunglasses at rock-bottom prices. And if you're shopping for Clinique cosmetics, you can find it here at really decent prices.
Almost next door, check out J&R for great deals on electronics of all types (Park Row across from City Hall Park; phone 212-238-9000; Fax 212-238-9191; http://www.jr.com). Travelers on my tour found iPods, digital cameras and video cameras there that made their hearts sing.
DSW is theeeee place for designer women's shoes. (102 N. End Ave in Chinatown; phone 212-945-7419) Very hit or miss. The stuff–because it is so wonderful–moves out extremely quickly. I once eyed a pair of Lilly Pulitzer's at a DSW store in Miami, hesitated, went back the next day and found that the entire stock of Lilly's was gone. If you gotta have it, get it as soon as you find out it fits.
While you're in the lower west side, check out the deals on Canal Street. Cheap. Fake. Fun…if you must. Everything from fake designer handbags to cheap jewelry to hats and scarves to t-shirts.
If you gotta have a drop-dead gorgeous Italian leather handbag for Christmas, call the good folks at Suarez on Park Avenue at around 56th St. (450 Park Ave; phone 212-753-3758). A family-owned business for something like three generations, their staff is courteous and their stuff is super-pretty. Their bags come in fourteen colors, including an absolutely incredible Tiffany-blue. But your pockets better be deep: prices start at $300 and rocket on up from there. They're having somewhat of a sale, with their $550-on-up bags currently at 20% off.
After sleeping on a Suarez purchase by my husband (for my Christmas gift) not one, not two, but three nights…I decided that with four kids to put through college (and two sofas to reupholster and yada yada yada) that an expensive handbag was a little bit too over-the-top right now. Ernie and I opted instead to buy a gorgeous Italian handbag, the "Kelly Bag" (think Grace Kelly) at a wonderful handbag store that is losing its building and combining two stores into one and therefore discounting all of its merchandise by 80%. Yes. As in 80% OFF. Their gorgeous $650 bags have been discounted to about $130. At that price, you can perhaps think about buying one in a color you wouldn't normally entertain…and if you accidentally ruin one, you won't be crying all the way back to the city to get a replacement. And you might even be able to justify buying two. Call Michel's Bags (510 Madison Avenue between 52nd and 53rd Sts; phone 212 355-8309). Ask for Kathy and tell her the-gal-from-Connecticut-who-couldn't-decide-which-bag-to- buy-but-who-finally-bought-the-Kelly-bag-on-Monday sent you. She's lovely. And hurry up! The sale ends December 31 and they're quickly running out of stock.
Pearl River Mart (477 Broadway, between Grand and Broome Sts.; phone 212-431-4770; http://www.pearlriver.com) has not only cheap stuff with which to decorate–china bowls, tea services and placemats–but fun little no-nothings for stocking stuffers. I found–though did not buy–the cutest paper lanterns on the planet, and if I needed yet one more thing to put into my daughter's bedroom, they would quite probably be it. I did, however, make my only afternoon purchase, because I hadn't seen them elsewhere: pretty glycerine soaps for children with embedded "cute-isms" like "smile," "joy," "laugh," "love," etc. I bought a half-dozen to give to a family with four young daughters, along with silk draw-string bags in orange-with-white-polka-dots for festive packaging. All for something like $18.
Kate's Paperie (phone 800-809-9880; http://www.katespaperie.com) is still the best shop in NYC for stationery and super-pretty papers. Hands down. No contest. With four locations on NYC (its SoHo shop at 561 Broadway is incredible) it is a must-see if you are a paper lover or simply need some eye candy. Call to order, but if you're in the city, do not miss the Kate's Paperie experience.
Dean & Deluca in SoHo (560 Broadway; phone 212-226-6800 or toll-free 800-221-7714; http://www.deandeluca.com) is the place to find all food-related things that you cannot find elsewhere. Glorious olive oil "brick" soaps, pots and pans, and gourmet candies are amongst my favorites there. See if they can special order you some chocolate-covered gummy bears. The best.
Baking a lot for Christmas? Need cookie cutters? Baking pans? Icing tips? Try New York Cake at 56 West 22nd Street between 5th and 6th Avenue. Incredible selection. Phone or FAX orders: 800-942-2539; FAX 212-675-7099.
Lee's Art Shop (220 W. 57th Street, between 7th Avenue and Broadway; phone 212-247-0110) has fantastic kids' art supplies, stuff for adult artists, creative stocking stuffers and the best art tools in the city. If your area lacks a great art supply store, this is it.
Museum gift shops cannot be ruled out as amongst the best outlets for creative gift ideas. I had a wonderful time–after a two-hour guided tour of The Metropolitan Museum of Art –in their large gift shop (1000 Fifth Avenue at 82nd St; phone 212-570-3894), which is a destination in and of itself. If you can't find that art book you've been looking for, give them a call. Beautiful silk scarves and ties. Jewelry, too.
Also check out The Museum of American Folk Art Shop for wonderful gifts, most made by American artisans: 45 W 53rd St between 5th and 6th; phone 212-265-1040.
The Holiday Gift Shops at St. Bartholomew's have some unusual gifts that you won't find elsewhere, but you've got to be in the city to access them. If you're in the city, check them out at Park Avenue between 50th and 51st Streets.
If you do get into the city, do not–and I repeat, do not–rule out the fabulous pashmina and cashmere shawls that you can pick up from the street vendors for $5 or $10. OK. I haven't exactly checked out the fiber content with a magnifying glass, but hey, for ten bucks, how can you go too wrong? I pick one up each trip into the city and have found some real beauties. The color range is quite wonderful. Yum. The latest have a gorgeous jacquard weave and I find one wrapped around my neck at every venture out of doors. Particularly good locations? Try just west of Fifth Avenue around 50th or 51st Streets.
Gotta hit the large department stores? OK. So do I, but not for bargains. They remain, I admit, a feast for the eyes and a veritable New York experience. You've got to get the salespeople spritzing you with the latest perfumes and schmearing you with the latest anti-wrinkle creams upon arrival. No one does this better than the good folks at Saks Fifth Avenue (50th St. and Fifth Avenue) Very elegant. Very expensive. Really, no bargains to be found except after Christmas, when discounts of 50% will be commonplace. I love their contemporary sportswear and their private label. Beautiful night show of dancing snowflakes in the windows timed to Christmas music. Magical. Bloomingdale's (Third Avenue and 59th Street or in SoHo at 504 Broadway; phone 212-729-5900) is trendy, bustling and exciting. Their tagline it's like "no other store in the world" is true. They carry some pretty cool stuff that you just won't find anywhere else. Watch for deep discounts…but not until after Christmas. Some bargains can actually be found at Lord & Taylor (38th St. and Fifth Avenue) as they are continually bringing in new merchandise. Granted: most of the NYC stores are doing the same, but Lord & Taylor does this consistently and does it well. One of my favorites. Bergdorf Goodman (754 Fifth Avenue at 57th St.; the men's store is located across the street. Phone: 800-558-1855) is not a store that you necessarily shop in, and is certainly not a place in which to behold a bargain. It is simply a place to train your eye. To look at beauty (and the beautiful). Their windows are the best-dressed and the same could be said for their (real) customers. Lines of gawkers outside their blue-and-white china window were five deep. I could hardly take my eyes off it. If you make the trip in to the city, you must make a quick stop here. 'Nough said.
Crate&Barrel (650 Madison Avenue at 60th Street; phone 212-308-0011) is beautifully decorated for Christmas and contains enough low-priced stuff that it's certainly worth a visit. If you're looking for a small kitchen appliance, especially, it beats the prices at Williams-Sonoma. This should be part of your Madison Avenue experience; a phone call is also worth it if you know what you're looking for.
For stuff for the home, I have two favorites: ABC Carpet and Home (888 Broadway at 19th St; phone 212 473-3000) is filled to the brim with treasures–and rugs–from around the world. Not to be missed, you'll find things in all price ranges, including arguably the best baby department in the city. Pierre Deux (625 Madison Ave at around 56th St; phone 212-521-8012) is not only for the Francophiles amongst us; it is a jewel box in the heart of Madison Avenue. Roosters lurk in every corner; gorgeous French fabrics fill every square inch; expensive furniture lines the downstairs footage; and reproduction paintings and lamps and shades and china take center stage through this large retail space. Ahhh….A little retreat into wonderful.
That oughta do it. Happy shopping!