Lower Manhattan & the Financial District
The mother of all discount department stores is Century 21, across Church Street from the World Trade Center site. New inventory flows in literally all day, as do throngs of customers. Despite its often elbow-to-elbow aisles, the store is worth a visit—just aim to go on a weekday morning to take advantage of its bargains before the crowds appear.
Head toward the East River via Fulton Street to visit the South Street Seaport (tel. 212/732-8257; Subway: 2, 3, 4, 5, A, C, J, M to Fulton St.). Familiar names such as Gap, Abercrombie & Fitch, and Coach fill the cobblestone-paved, open-air mall. Cross South Street to visit Pier 17, one of the biggest indoor malls in Manhattan. But don’t let the word “mall” discourage you. Though it’s filled with largely nondescript shops and a forgettable food court, this retail-laden locale is worth the trip for the historic ambience and stunning harbor vistas. Be sure to hit the pier’s top outdoor deck for a one-of-a-kind Brooklyn Bridge view. For store directories, visit www.southstreetseaport.com and www.downtownny.com.
Meanwhile, the Financial District/New York Stock Exchange zone has become quite the little high-end haven in recent years. On Wall Street, check out designer retailers like Tiffany & Co., True Religion Brand Jeans (tel. 212/791-5930), Thomas Pink (tel. 212/514-7683), and Tumi (tel. 212/742-8020), as well as Hermès (tel. 212/759-7585) on Broad Street. And if you’re sick of the subway, there’s also a BMW of Manhattan salesroom at 67 Wall St.—apparently there for stockbrokers who get lucky.
Don’t expect to find the bargain of a lifetime on Chinatown’s crowded streets, but there’s always great browsing. The fish and herbal markets along Canal, Mott, Mulberry, and Elizabeth streets are fun for their bustle and exotica—as well as for the handful of Italian joints still hanging on from the Little Italy days. Dispersed among them (especially along Canal), you’ll find a mind-boggling collection of knockoff sunglasses, handbags, fragrances, shoes, and watches. It can be a fun browse, but quality is questionable, and usually so are the sellers—and remember to bargain before busting out your wallet! (Also, skip the bootleg CDs, videos, and software—these are stolen goods, and you will be disappointed with the product.) I’d steer clear of electronics altogether, but if you must buy, at least open the package before exchanging money to make sure you’re not buying a brick in a name-brand box.
Perhaps the best matrix of Chinatown shops are the side streets tucked south of Canal, between Mott Street and the Bowery. The sidewalks are jammed, the stores are cramped, and vendors sell $1 eggrolls from carts—it’s enough to make you question what country you’re in. If it’s Chinese housewares, spices, and delectables you’re after, try wandering Centre Street and Grand Street, where you’ll surely enjoy the photo opps if not the merchandise.
If you’re out for cool and colorful mementos, duck into Ting’s Gift Shop, 18 Doyer St. (tel. 212/962-1081), one of the oldest operating businesses in Chinatown. Under a vintage pressed-tin ceiling, the shop sells good-quality Chinese toys, kits, and lanterns. Tea lovers should not miss Ten Ren Tea & Genseng, 75 Mott Street (tel. 212/349-2286), where the lovely staff will help you select delectable teas and all the right brewing accessories.
The Lower East Side
The bargains aren’t what they used to be in the Historic Orchard Street Shopping District, which basically runs from Houston to Canal along Allen, Orchard, and Ludlow streets, spreading outward along both sides of Delancey Street. There are a handful of old-fashioned lingerie (really girdle), leather goods, shoes, linens, and fabrics on the bolt shops. But the street today is mostly a hipster haunt, filled with art galleries, designer-owned tiny boutiques, craft beer emporiums and lots of bars and restaurants.
In fact, I’d say the artists and other trendsetters who have been turning the entire Lower East Side into a bastion of hip . You’ll find a growing—and increasingly upscale—crop of alterna-shops south of Houston and north of Grand Street, between Allen and Clinton streets to the east and west, specializing in up-to-the-minute fashions and edgy club clothes, plus funky retro furnishings, Japanese toys, and other offbeat items. Among them are Reed Space, 151 Orchard St. (tel. 212/253-0588), a cool “lifestyle boutique” home to local and international designers, along with art, music, books, and magazines.
Before you head into the Orchard Street thicket, pick up a shopping guide at the Lower East Side Visitor Center, 54 Orchard St., between Hester and Grand streets (tel. 866/224-0206; Subway: F to Delancey St.). Or you can preview the list and learn all things LES online at www.lowereastsideny.com.
Over the past few decades SoHo has gone from undiscovered to uber-fashionable. It’s true, J. Crew and Old Navy are two of many big names that supplanted many of the artists’ lofts that used to fill SoHo’s historic buildings. But the fact is, no neighborhood rivals the ambiance here. The elegant cast-iron architecture, the cobblestone streets, and the distinct artist vibe give SoHo a look and feel unlike any other neighborhood, which is why it’s a landmarked district. And by the way, you can still buy original art direct from the artists lined up on Spring, Prince, and other high-traffic side streets (right outside designer storefronts).
SoHo’s shopping grid runs from Broadway west to Sixth Avenue, and Houston Street south to Canal Street. Broadway is the most commercial strip, with big names like Club Monaco, Bebe, Victoria’s Secret and H&M, the economical Swedish department store with cutting-edge fashions. Bloomingdale’s has a downtown branch on Broadway, while nearby, Prada’s flagship store is worth visiting for its spacious, almost soothing design alone (by Dutch “starchitect” Rem Koolhaus).
Not so long ago, Elizabeth Street was a quiet adjunct to Little Italy. Today it’s one of the hottest shopping strips in the neighborhood known as Nolita (North of Little Italy). Elizabeth and neighboring Mott and Mulberry streets are dotted with stylish shops between Lafayette Street and the Bowery, below Houston to Kenmare. It’s an easy walk from the Broadway/Lafayette stop on the F or M line to the neighborhood, as it starts just east of Lafayette Street; you can also take the no. 6 train to Spring Street, or the N, R to Prince Street and walk east from there.
Nolita is the cousin of SoHo—making it cute and not cheap. Its curb-to-curb boutiques are largely the province of shopkeepers specializing in high-quality fashion-forward products. More and more, it’s become a beacon of niche designs from around the world. Calypso, 280 Mott St. (tel. 212/965-0990; www.calypso-celle.com), has evolved into a successful brand of boho-hippie-chic styles for women, children and babies, with stores in Nolita and SoHo. Nearby you’ll find laid-back, military-inspired men’s fashions at Unis, 226 Elizabeth St. (tel. 212/431-5533), which are within reach of most wallets. And don’t skip Creatures of Comfort, 205 Mulberry St. (tel. 212/925-1005), for eye-catching, funky up-and-coming designer duds.
The East Village
The East Village has long personified bohemian hip, though many New Yorkers would argue the area, with its shiny new condos, has been engulfed by gentrification. Nevertheless, it’s a can’t-miss neighborhood. The easiest subway access is the no. 6 train to Astor Place, which is just east of the prime hunting grounds.
That said, if it’s funky, sassy, and usually pretty cheap, it’s probably for sale on St. Marks Place, which is the alternate name for 8th Street between Third Avenue and Avenue A. The strip between Third and Second avenues, however, is a permanent street market with countless T-shirt stands, tattoo parlors, and boho jewelry storefronts. Beyond endless sunglasses and hat stands, here used-record and rock-memorabilia collectors can have a field day (see “Music,” in the “Shopping A to Z,” section). And don’t forget to check out the bargains at East Village Books, 99 St. Mark’s Pl. (tel. 212/477-8647). If you’re in search of the harder-edge East Village, head eastward toward the lettered streets that are “Alphabet City” (home turf of the musical Rent).
For chi-chi stuff, walk on East 9th Street, between Second Avenue and Avenue A, to find an increasingly smart collection of boutiques, clothing, and otherwise. Designers like Jill Anderson, 331 E. 9th St. (tel. 212/253-1747), Meg, 312 E. 9th St. (tel. 212/260-3269) and Huminska, 315 E. 9th St. (tel. 212/677-3458), stand out for their excellent quality and original fashions for women. That same strip also draws shopping hawks circling for vintage duds, which are bountiful in the East Village. Highlights include: Cobblestones, 314 East 9th St. (tel. 212/673-5372), specializing in ’30s and ’40s authentic garb; Archangel Antiques, 334 East 9th St. (tel. 212/260-9313), with accessories, clothing and home décor; and Argosy, 428 East 9th St. (tel. 212/982-7918), specializing in men’s vintage clothing and boots.
Lafayette Street from SoHo to NoHo
Lafayette Street has a retail character all its own, distinct from the rest of SoHo. It has grown into something of an Antiques Row, especially strong in furniture. Prices are high, but so is quality. The stretch to stroll is between 8th Street to the north and Spring Street to the south. Take the no. 6 train to Astor Place and work your way south, or get off at Spring Street and walk north, or take the F or M to Broadway–Lafayette and you’ll be in the heart of the action. Highlights include Gallery 440, 440 Lafayette St. (tel. 212/979-5800), for vintage 20th-century lighting and furniture pieces from American, French, and Italian designers. Elan Antiques and Alan Moss Studios also house great domestic and international collections. Also stop by Other Music at 15 E. 4th St. (tel. 212/477-8150) to browse their amazing selection of new and used CDs and vinyl records. Let the knowledgeable staff help you find the right new band or album to get you in the local NYC-music mood. (See the “Music” section for more.)
The West Village is great for browsing and gift shopping. Specialty bookstores and record stores, antiques and craft shops, and gourmet food markets dominate. On 8th Street—NYU territory between Broadway and Sixth Avenue—you can find trendy footwear and affordable fashions.
But the biggest shopping boom of late has happened on Bleecker Street west of Sixth Avenue. Between Carmine Street and Seventh Avenue, foodies will delight in the strip of tantalizing food shops, including Amy’s Bread, London Candys, Murray’s Cheese and a slew of gourmet ice cream and pastry shops. In between are vintage stores, guitar shops, and a sprinkling of artsy boutiques. On Christopher Street, you’ll find such wonders as Aedes De Venutas at 9 Christopher St. (tel. 212/206-8674; www.aedes.com), a lovely little outfit selling perfumes and scented candles that are hard to find in the States, and the Porcelain Room, 13 Christopher St. (tel. 212/367-8206; www.theporcelainroom.com), which is located below street level and offers amazing antique and contemporary porcelains from Europe and Asia.
Along Christopher Street you’ll also find all manner of LGBT shops, like Rainbow Greetings at No. 98 (tel. 212/638/3310), for all your pride decor and much more.
Follow Christopher westward, where Bleecker becomes boutique alley, and one jewel box of a shop follows another. Among them: Intermix, Olive & Bette, Ralph Lauren, Lulu Guinness, Marc Jacobs, and the new Michael Kors emporium.
Great browsing also abounds among the shops west of Seventh Avenue and along Hudson Street/Eighth Avenue. One of them is the House of Cards and Curiosities at 23 Eighth Ave., between Jane and 12th streets (tel. 347/694-4215), which one could argue is more curiosities than cards. The Ink Pad (tel. 212/463-9876; www.theinkpadnyc.com), across the street, is “New York’s only rubber stamp art shop,” and is home to a remarkable array of cool and crafty stamps, along with classes to make clever art with them. The Village is full of adorable, locally owned storefronts like these.
When 23rd Street was the epitome of New York fashion a century ago, the major department stores stretched along Sixth Avenue for about a mile from 14th Street up. These elegant stores stood in huge cast-iron buildings that eventually were abandoned. Fortunately, the past decade has seen those grand structures transform into to new superstores. Marshalls, TJ Maxx, and Bed Bath & Beyond are all at 620 Sixth Ave., with the Container Store across the street so you can figure out how to store all your purchases.
Limelight Marketplace, 656 Sixth Ave. (tel. 212/359-5600), both a former church and a former nightclub, is now renovated as a three-story shopping mall. If the shopping doesn’t impress you (and it probably won’t), at least the architecture will. Far west Chelsea, meanwhile, has been transformed into the Chelsea Art District, where more than 200 galleries have sprouted up in a once-moribund enclave of repair shops and warehouses. The district unofficially stretches between 14th to 29th streets and the West Side Highway and Seventh Avenue, but the high-density area lies between 20th and 26th streets, between Tenth and Eleventh avenues.
The Meatpacking District has also zoomed from quaint to hot (and some say over) in no time, with such big-name designers as Stella McCartney, 429 W. 14th St. (tel. 212/255-1556); Christian Louboutin, 59 Horatio St. (tel. 212/255-1910); and Alexander McQueen, 417 W. 14th St. (tel. 212/645-1797) in residence. For those “metrosexual” fashion slaves, the strip of Eighth Avenue between about 17th and 20th Street also offers a series of cool, mostly menswear shops, such as Universal Gear, EFOR, and Camouflage, and there’s Barneys Coop around the corner at 236 W. 18th St. (tel. 212/593-7800). If you’re seeking unique souvenirs over fancy clothes, stop by Chissholm Larsson Gallery, 145 Eighth Avenue (tel. 212/741-1703), which has sold original vintage posters for nearly four decades. You don’t have to be a collector to marvel at the huge array of original movie, advertising, propaganda, and other posters.
Union Square/the Flatiron District
The hottest shopping/eating/hangout zone in the city may be Union Square. The long-forlorn south side of the square is now a megashopping zone with Whole Foods, Forever 21, and DSW (Designer Shoe Warehouse). And while the city’s first Nordstrom Rack replaced the music wonderland known as Virgin Megastore in 2010, you can still browse for a melodic memento at Academy Records up on 18th Street (or head down Broadway to Other Music in NoHo). On the north side of the Square, Barnes & Noble fills a beautifully restored 1880 cast-iron building, but for a real New York experience go to the one-of-a-kind Strand Bookstore, at Broadway and 12th Street. On University Place is one of the city’s best lingerie stores La Petite Coquette and 10th Street between University and Broadway is a mecca for those who love fine antiques, from silver lockets to Mid-Century Modern lamps to Belle Epoque furniture. Of course, the beating heart of Union Square is the 4-days-a-week Greenmarket, the biggest farmers’ market in the city and the best place to see how Manhattanites shop for fresh local groceries. In November and December, the Square also partly turns into a pop-up mall with the Holiday Market, brimming with handcrafted art, jewelry, gifts, clothes, and everything else.
On Broadway, just a few blocks north of Union Square, is the shopping emporium ABC Carpet & Home, where the loft-size floors hold brilliantly decadent displays of furniture, housewares, linens (thread counts off the charts), and tchotchkes of all sizes and shapes. Upscale retailers who have rediscovered the architectural majesty of lower Fifth Avenue include Banana Republic, Victoria’s Secret, and Kenneth Cole. You won’t find many small-name shops along Fifth, so head down its side streets for something more unique.
And then, certo, there is Eataly, at the stately northwest corner of Broadway and Fifth Avenue (tel. 212/229-2560). Legendary chef, restaurateur and Italian-American Mario Batali and partners have splayed seemingly all of Italy’s gastronomic delights across 50,000 square feet of prime Flatiron real estate.
Herald Square & the Garment District
Herald Square—where 34th Street, Sixth Avenue, and Broadway converge—is dominated by Macy’s, the self-proclaimed “biggest department store in the world.” At Sixth Avenue and 33rd Street is the Manhattan Mall (tel. 212/465-0500; www.manhattanmallny.com), home to typical mall standards like Aeropostale and Express. And there’s plenty of big shopping all around the mall, including an outlet of Lush, England’s penultimate bath-supply store.
A long block over on Seventh Avenue, not much goes on in the grimy, heavily industrial Garment District. This is, however, where you’ll often find sites for that quintessential New York event, the sample sale.
Times Square & the Theater District
You won’t find much in the heart of Times Square to entice the serious shopper. But among the most dazzling mega-stores is the Toys “R” Us flagship on Broadway and 44th Street, which even has its own full-scale indoor Ferris wheel. West 47th Street between Fifth and Sixth avenues is the city’s famous Diamond District; see “Jewelry & Accessories” in the “Shopping A to Z,” section.
You’ll also notice a wealth of electronics stores throughout the neighborhood, many perpetually trumpeting GOING OUT OF BUSINESS sales. These joints have been going out of business since the Stone Age—but one thing’s certain, just like a real out-of-business store, you won’t be able to return a lemon camera you bought there. Better to stick with buying souvenir trinkets and T-shirts at these joints. Electronics are more wisely purchased at B&H or J&R superstores for real bargains with set prices—and legitimate warranties. (See the “Electronics” section.)
Don’t leave the neighborhood just yet. Stop by the Drama Book Shop at 250 W. 40th St. to browse hard-to-find plays in print, and maybe meet a real-life starving actor. Then head up Ninth Avenue in Hell’s Kitchen, between 42nd and 57th streets, home to a wealth of little shops and charming restaurants. One of the more interesting is Scent Elate, 313 W. 48th St., between Eighth and Ninth avenues (tel. 212/258-3043; www.scentelate.com), which stocks candles, handmade soaps, essential oils, an array of products made by local artists, and the legendary Lampe Berger perfume lamps (one of the few places to find them in the city).
Rivaling the delightful fragrances at Scent Elate are the sweets at Ruby et Violette, 457 W. 50th St., between Ninth and Tenth avenues (tel. 212/582-6720; www.rubyetviolette.com). Stop in and gorge on the 18 daily-rotating flavors (out of 120 total) of utterly divine cookie and ice cream flavors. If you’ve still got room for a meal, you’re in luck: You’re a stone’s throw from Restaurant Row, 46th Street between Eighth and Ninth avenues, where you’ll find interesting shopping interspersed among the multiethnic restaurants. (Find out more at www.restaurantrownyc.com.)
Wander over to 42nd Street to hit the big-name shops, like Lids, a chain that carries the official on-field baseball cap of every single major-league baseball team, and what seems like every variation, too.
Fifth Avenue & 57th Street
The heart of Manhattan retail spans Fifth Avenue from the upper 40s to 57th Street and across. Tiffany & Co., which has long reigned supreme, sits a stone’s throw from NIKETOWN and the huge Louis Vuitton flagship at the corner of 57th Street and Fifth Avenue. In addition, a good number of mainstream retailers, such as Banana Republic, have flagships along Fifth, shifting the breadth of higher-end shopping to Madison Avenue north of 59th Street. You will find a number of big-name, big-ticket designers radiating from the crossroads, including Versace, Chanel, Dior, and Cartier. You’ll also find big-name jewelers here, as well as grand old department stores such as Bergdorf Goodman, Henri Bendel, and Saks Fifth Avenue—all Fifth Avenue mainstays that must at least be browsed, even if your budget won’t allow for more than longing glances.
Madison Avenue from 57th to 79th streets boasts the most expensive retail real estate in the world. Bring lots of plastic. This ultradeluxe strip—particularly in the high 60s—is home to the most luxurious designer boutiques, with Barneys New York as the anchor. For a sampling of local designers, see “Clothing” in the “Shopping A to Z,” section.
Don’t be intimidated by the glamour of this shopper’s mile or any of the celebrities you’re likely to cross paths with. The luxury boutiques of Madison Avenue will be happy you stopped by if only to peruse their treasures, and maybe even discover a bargain in the racks. There’s also the joy of fine architecture among many of these upscale retailers, like the stunning Ralph Lauren Store, housed in a revamped mansion at 72nd Street. If you’re in the market for something different, two of the more diverse retailers are the Chinese luxury boutique Shanghai Tang, 600 Madison Ave. (tel. 212/888-0111; www.shanghaitang.com), and French crystalier Lalique at 609 Madison Ave. (tel. 212/355-6550), both with merchandise you won’t find anywhere else in town.
Upper West Side
The Upper West Side’s best shopping street is Columbus Avenue. Small shops catering to the neighborhood’s white-collar mix of yuppies and families line both sides of the avenue from 66th Street to about 86th Street. Highlights include Maxilla & Mandible for its museum-quality natural-science-based gifts, and perhaps the world’s best tagline: “The world’s first and only osteological store.” (See the “Museum Stores” section.) The browsing continues along Amsterdam Avenue, but go one more block west to main-drag Broadway for some gourmet edibles at Zabar’s and Fairway markets (see “Edibles,” in the “Shopping A to Z,” section). You can also score some comfy kicks at Harry’s Shoes on Broadway at 83rd Street, or down Broadway at Tip Top Shoes on 72nd Street. (See “Shoes” for more.) Still further south, the Shops at Columbus Circle offers a world of upscale choices for shopping.
Mall with a View: The Shops at Columbus Circle — The Shops at Columbus Circle mall, in the Time Warner Center, features not only some of the biggest (and priciest) names in retail, but it also offers shopping with a view of Central Park. Situated just off the southwest corner of “the city’s playground,” the mall is 2 blocks long and four stories high. But for shoppers who set their sights on such retailers as Williams-Sonoma, Sisley, Coach, Hugo Boss, Eileen Fisher, Thomas Pink, C-Wonder, Bose, and the massive 59,000-square-foot Whole Foods Market, does the picturesque view really matter? For more information and a complete list of stores, check the mall’s website at www.shopsatcolumbuscircle.com, or call tel. 212/823-6300.
The Outer Boroughs
Brooklyn is a shopping destination in its own right, and some of the best and most interesting things can be found in Park Slope, Williamsburg, Fort Greene, Cobble Hill/Carroll Gardens, DUMBO, and other neighborhoods.
In recent years, Park Slope became officially great shopping territory, lined with endless adorable and diverse, independently owned retailers selling unique wares. The main action is along Fifth and Seventh avenues, both starting from Flatbush Avenue all the way down to about 15th Street. There’s also the centrally located Atlantic Terminal Mall, should you need to visit Brooklyn’s superbusy Target or another big chain store like Gamestop, Daffy’s, or Guitar Center. Mostly I skip the mall and wander down Atlantic Avenue toward Smith Street and Court Street in Cobble Hill to browse the wealth of charming boutiques—and, as of late 2010, a new Barney’s Co-Op at 194 Atlantic Ave. (tel. 718/637-2234). Duck into the little side street called Boerum Place to check out what cool vintage plus-size garb is for sale at Re/Dress (tel. 212/522-7962).
Closer to Manhattan you’ll find the very scenic, cobblestoned DUMBO (that’s Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass), with high-end stores in spacious shops, including local-fashion retailer Loopy Mango at two locations, and Jacques Torres Chocolate. Over in Fort Greene, the Brooklyn Flea weekend market (www.brooklynflea.com), should not be missed in either its Saturday warm-weather outdoor location on Lafayette Ave., or Sunday indoors at Skylight One Hanson, open year-round. Its off-shoot Smorgasburg (www.smorgasburg.com) takes place in Williamsburg and is a foodie market par extraordinaire.
Shopping One-Two-Five Street
Few neighborhoods are now free of big chain stores, and now 125th Street, Harlem’s central boulevard, is among them. The heart of this shopping thoroughfare is between St. Nicholas Avenue and Fifth Avenue, where you’ll find American Apparel, H&M, MAC Cosmetics, the Body Shop, Starbucks, Old Navy, and Modell’s. Fortunately smaller local retailers are peppered in between. Among them are elegant beauty and skincare shop Carol’s Daughter, 24 W. 125th St. (tel. 212/828-6757), and clothier the Brownstone Woman, 24 E. 125th St. (tel. 212/996-7980).
Also sprinkled among the big names are stores that represent the unique Harlem character. Hip-hop boutiques are 1-2-5 mainstays, including two locations of Jimmy Jazz, 132 and 239 W. 125th St. (tel. 212/663-2827), and Jersey Man Cap USA, 112 W. 125th St. (tel. 212/222-7942), where you can get anything from a Kangol to Girbaud Femme. For a decade now, Hue-Man Books, 2319 Frederick Douglass Blvd., just south of 125th Street (tel. 212/665-7400), has been the neighborhood joint for books and readings—specializing in Harlem-based authors and local bestsellers, as well as “voices from the ‘hood” categorized under “Street Fiction.” And while 125th has no shortage of sidewalk vendors selling incense, African importer Nicholas Variety, 5 E. 125th St. (tel. 212/289-3628), may be an even better spot to pick up scented oils, bath salts, and other aroma therapy aids.
For a cultural diversion, stop in at the Studio Museum in Harlem, 144 W. 125th St., between Lenox Avenue and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard (tel. 212/864-4500)—also home to a cool gift shop. Head east for the most eye-catching, uniquely Harlem T-shirts and hoodies at the modest Harlem Underground Clothing Company, 20 E. 125th St. (tel. 212/987-9385), which sports the coolest Barack Obama gear possibly in all of New York.