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Why do the majority of visitors to New York descend on the city in fall and early winter? They come here to shop. In the run-up to Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, and other big-spender holidays, avid shoppers storm the city because they know that if you can’t find it in the Big Apple . . . well, it simply doesn’t exist. On this website, I attempt to bring some order to the massive number of shopping options in the Big Apple, concentrating on the locally owned shops and shopping experiences that can only be had in NYC. If you want one of the chain stores—and lord knows we have a lot of those in NYC!—look at the section of this site called "Shopping by Area". I'll tell you where the clusters of chains are there.

Sales Tax -- At the time of this writing, the combined New York State and City sales tax totals 8.875%. But the city has made clothing and footwear under $110 exempt from sales tax, leaving only the state to charge 4.5% on those items.

Additional Sources for Serious Shoppers -- If you’re looking for specific items or sales, check the daily shopping listings at www.newyork.citysearch.com, www.timeoutny.com, and www.nymag.com before you leave home. Once you’re here, consider picking up the hard-copy magazines: You can find details about the week’s sales and newest shops in the “Seeking” and “Shopping” pages of Time Out New York or the “Sales & Bargains,” “Best Bets,” and “Wish List” sections of New York magazine. If you don’t already, you should know about www.dailycandy.com, a newsletter that often lists store openings and the day’s hot tips on sale locations. Two more sites, www.ny.racked.com and www.refinery29.com are two more sites that list NYC store openings, great sample sales, and fashion trendspotting.

When Is It Open?

Open hours can vary significantly from store to store—even different branches of Gap can keep different schedules depending on location and management. Generally, stores open at 10 or 11am Monday through Saturday, and 7pm is the most common closing hour—with exceptions, of course. Both opening and closing hours tend to get later as you move downtown; stores in the East Village often don’t open until 1 or 2pm, and they stay open until 8pm or later. All of the big department stores are open 7 days a week. However, unlike department stores in suburban malls, most of these stores don’t keep a regular 10am-to-9pm schedule. The department stores and shops along major strips, such as Fifth Avenue, usually stay open later 1 night a week (often Thurs), while smaller boutiques may close 1 day a week. Sunday hours are usually noon to 5 or 6pm. In addition, some neighborhoods virtually shut down on a particular day—namely the Lower East Side on Saturday, the East Village on Monday, and most of the Financial District for the weekend. But at holiday time, anything goes: Macy’s often stays open until midnight for the last few weeks before Christmas. Your best bet is to call ahead or check a particular store website if your heart’s set on visiting it. And if you’re in town in early September, you may be able to catch the city’s annual Fashion’s Night Out extravaganza. Launched in 2009, this one night of the year sees designers turn their shops into discos with late-night hours, open bars, and great bargains. Check out www.fashionsnightout.com for more, including a countdown clock. It’s good enough to plan your trip around.

Sale Seasons

These may be obvious to the serious shopper, but for those on the learning curve, here are New York’s prime sale seasons:

Thanksgiving: “Black Friday,” or the day after Thanksgiving, is the beginning of the holiday shopping season. Many stores inaugurate this high time with major sales. Stores are open wildly early and late, and entice shoppers with some amazing deals, usually involving buying multiple items.

Pre-Christmas: Retailers bent on making their sales quotas go to great lengths to draw in eager shoppers. Bargains abound, though they may not dazzle as much as prices on December 26. Which leads me to . . .

Post-Christmas: With the Christmas returns and overstocked storerooms come the markdowns.

Whites: Usually in January, this is a sale of linens . . . and these days, rarely white.

January Clearance: You’ll find the European boutiques advertising clearance around the third week of January.

Valentine’s Day: Anything red, chocolaty, or with a heart shape will be advertised “on sale.”

Presidents' Day: This February long weekend brings great deals on winter inventory.

Memorial Day: Promotional sales sail in the last weekend in May.

Fourth of July: Blowouts on bathing suits and summer attire are summoned by the long weekend.

Midsummer Clearance: If there is anything summer related left on the racks after the Fourth of July, you’ll find it through about mid-August.

Back-to-School: A dreaded term as a child now means terrific deals on shoes, sweaters, bags, and outerwear.

Columbus Day: Coats and winter gear go on sale on this long weekend, usually the second one in October.

Election Day: Columbus Day sale leftovers are usually on the supersale racks by this early November government holiday.

The Wonders for Williamsbug, Brooklyn

For New Yorkers, the L subway is the primary crosstown/cross-river link to the hipster enclave that is Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Years ago, the cool kids getting priced out their East Village apartments migrated via the L to what was then a much more affordable neighborhood, filled with a mix of dilapidated lofts, dive bars, and sidewalk junk sales. You’ll still find all of that in Williamsburg, but now it’s intermingled with indie fashion designers, pricey (but great) second-hand stores, the indoor home of the Brooklyn Flea (and Smorgasburg in winter) and miscellaneous boutiques, clubs, and restaurants—almost all of which feel like tomorrow’s Next Big Thing. Here are some shopping highlights, all reachable via the L train’s first stop in Williamsburg: Bedford Avenue.

Beacon’s Closet -- 88 N. 11th St., between Berry Street and Wythe Avenue (tel. 718/486-0816; www.beaconscloset.com). This converted warehouse is not only Brooklyn’s best vintage clothing, it also just may be New York City’s as well. You can find men’s and a huge selection of women’s clothing here, along with hats, coats, jewelry, belt buckles, and novelties. A smaller Beacon’s is also in Park Slope at 92 Fifth Ave. (tel. 718/230-1630).

Brooklyn Industries -- 162 Bedford Ave., at North 8th Street (tel. 718/486-6464; www.brooklynindustries.com). There are several outlets of this quality clothing and sturdy shoulder-bag brand in Brooklyn, and a few in Manhattan (in case you needed proof of its coolness). Here’s the place for high-quality hoodies, jackets, T-shirts, dresses, and other wardrobe items sold in hip stores with sexy staffers. The label stands out for being authentically local owned, using unique fabric patterns, embroidered details, and quality silkscreening.

Earwax -- 167 N. 9th St. btw. Bedford and Driggs Aves (tel. 718/486-3771). This music outpost draws flocks of hipsters for its eclectic décor and selection. They also have an impressive collection of new and used CDs, and vinyl for the DJs among us.

Mini Mini Market --  218 Bedford Ave. (tel. 718/302-9337; www.miniminimarket.com). The stock is geared for women, especially the inexpensive antique jewelry. The store also features beauty products, hats, bags, and throwback toys. Go around the corner to 160 N. 6th St. to check out their offshoot Shoe Market Shop (tel. 718/388-8495).

Pema -- 225 Bedford Ave., near N. 5th St. (tel. 718/388-8814; www.pemany.com). High style and cool casualwear fill this women’s clothing, jewelry, hat, bag, and shoe store, which will add flair to every wardrobe.

NYC Is Chocolate City

The Big Apple has become a city consumed by a near-feverish craving for chocolate. Many sweets shops around the city now are turning out homemade chocolates in every variety that are so good, the stores, like four-star restaurants, are bona fide destinations.

What I like best about Jacques Torres Chocolate—besides the fact that Jacques Torres is a dashingly handsome Frenchman who likes to cook (making him every woman’s dream guy)—is its owner’s willingness to blend common ingredients with splendid chocolates. He does this, for example, with two breakfast cereals—plain bran flakes and Cheerios—and the results are exquisite. You’ll also want to pick up a can of his extraordinarily rich hot chocolate ($16 for an 18-oz. tin; the “Wicked” version is slightly spicy), which puts Hershey’s to shame. The chain has several locations, including one Uptown at 285 Amsterdam Avenue, at 73rd Street, and 350 Hudson Street at King Street, in the Hudson Square neighborhood ([tel] 212/414-2462). The 66 Water Street shop in DUMBO, Brooklyn, lets you watch chocolate being made—just don’t neglect his nearby Ice Cream Store at no. 62. (www.mrchocolate.com; [tel] 718/875-1269).
    Just east of the Metropolitan Museum of Art is the Madison Avenue incarnation of the Paris import What I like best about Jacques Torres Chocolate ★★★—besides the fact that Jacques Torres is a dashingly handsome Frenchman who likes to cook (making him every woman’s dream guy)—is its owner’s willingness to blend common ingredients with splendid chocolates. He does this, for example, with two breakfast cereals—plain bran flakes and Cheerios—and the results are exquisite. You’ll also want to pick up a can of his extraordinarily rich hot chocolate ($16 for an 18-oz. tin; the “Wicked” version is slightly spicy), which puts Hershey’s to shame. The chain has several locations, including one Uptown at 285 Amsterdam Avenue, at 73rd Street, and 350 Hudson Street at King Street, in the Hudson Square neighborhood (tel. 212/414-2462). The 66 Water Street shop in DUMBO, Brooklyn, lets you watch chocolate being made—just don’t neglect his nearby Ice Cream Store at no. 62. (www.mrchocolate.com; tel. 718/875-1269).
    Just east of the Metropolitan Museum of Art is the Madison Avenue incarnation of the Paris import La Maison du Chocolat, 1018 Madison Avenue, at 78th Street (www.lamaisonduchocolat.com; tel. 212/744-7117). This boutique takes its chocolate very seriously, proffering possibly the best pure chocolate you’ve ever tasted. They abhor any bitterness in their chocolate and make it a point to claim that they use nothing stronger than 65% cocoa. If you’re downtown, stop by their shop at 63 Wall Street (tel. 212/952-1123), or duck into the Midtown 30 Rockefeller Center store (tel. 212/265-9404).
    One of the oldest chocolate shops in the city is the 1923-established Li-Lac Chocolates, 40 Eighth Avenue at Jane Street (www.li-lacchocolates.com; tel. 212/924-2280), home to new batches of handmade fudge daily. Nearby is Allison Nelson’s sublime Chocolate Bar, 19 Eighth Avenue at West 12th Street (www.chocolatebarnyc.com; tel. 212/366-1541). Try the superdark 72%—so rich you might speak in tongues after a few bites.
    A final suggestion: Bond Street Chocolate, 63 E. 4th Street (www.bondstchocolate.com; tel. 212/677-5103) offers chocolate in much more innovative forms—like miniature skulls and the “divine collection” of Virgin Mary, Jesus, and Ganesh chocolate statues. Bond has lots of darks on the menu, as well as unusual flavors like tequila, elderflower, and absinthe truffle.

A Taste of New York

Do you want to bring back a real New York souvenir—something that evokes the genuine flavor of New York more than an I [heart] NEW YORK T-shirt or an Empire State Building figurine? Possibly the best place to pick up food souvenirs is the Lower East Side. This neighborhood, home to so many immigrants over the years, is where a number of traditional New York foods originated. One could argue the real anchor of the LES is Katz’s Delicatessen on Houston and Ludlow, where you can “send a salami to your boy in the army,” or ship any number of their other delicacies around the world.

You don’t need to know exactly what a bialy is to enjoy one, thank heavens. But since 1936 you can sample some of the best, hot baked local faves at Kossar’s Bialys, 367 Grand St., between Norfolk and Essex streets (tel. 877/4BIALYS [424-2597]; www.kossarsbialys.com). A dozen goes for around $11 and are sold in many tasty flavors like sesame, poppy, and garlic, as are the fresh bagels.

East Houston Street features two New York food-souvenir choices worth bringing home. Start with knishes from the 1910-established Yonah Schimmel Knishes at 137 E. Houston St., between First and Second avenues (tel. 212/477-2858; www.knishery.com). The choices range from savory potato to spinach to mushroom; a box of 12 runs $45 plus shipping. And of course, you can just buy one or two to eat right there. At 179 E. Houston St., between Allen and Orchard streets, you’ll find Russ & Daughters (tel. 212/475-4880; www.russanddaughters.com), which began as a push cart operation in 1908, and today is still family-run four generations later. They sell incomparable smoked fish and nova (similar to lox); try the tantalizing smoked-salmon medley package, which serves six and sells for about $89—and worth every penny.

Finally, there’s Ess-a-Pickle, formerly known as Guss Pickles (tel. 917/701-4000). Formerly an Lower East Side staple, Ess-a-Pickle relocated to Borough Park, Brooklyn in mid-2010 (1470 39th St., to be exact). Owner Pat Fairhurst said high rents priced her out of Manhattan—but she’ll still make phone orders for her flavorful half- or full-sour pickles and green tomatoes.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.