Here's a rundown of New York's most interesting shopping areas, with some highlights of each to give you a feel for the neighborhood.
Lower Manhattan & The Financial District: South Street Seaport (tel. 212/732-8257; subway: 2, 3, 4, 5 to Fulton St.) carries the neighborhood's torch. Familiar names like Abercrombie & Fitch, Ann Taylor, and the Sunglass Hut line Fulton Street, the Seaport's main cobbled drag; several tiers of largely nondescript shops and a large food court fill the levels at Pier 17, a waterfront barge-turned-shopping mall. There's nothing here you can't get anywhere else in Manhattan; come for the historic ambience and the wonderful harbor views. For a store list, visit www.southstreetseaport.com.
Century 21, the king of discount department stores, is across the street from the World Trade Center site. Electronics megamart J&R is still going strong, now occupying a full city block, with great prices on everything from cameras and computers to CDs and software.
Chinatown: Don't expect to find the purchase of a lifetime on Chinatown's often very crowded streets, but there's some quality browsing to be had. The fish and herbal markets along Canal, Mott, Mulberry, and Elizabeth streets are fun for their bustle and exotica. Dispersed among them (especially along Canal St.), you'll find a mind-boggling collection of knock-off sunglasses and watches, cheap backpacks, discount leather goods, and exotic souvenirs. It's a fun daytime browse, but don't expect quality -- and be sure to bargain before you buy. (Also, skip the bootleg CDs, videos, and software -- these are stolen goods, and you will be disappointed with the product.) Mott Street, between Pell Street and Chatham Square, boasts the most interesting of Chinatown's off-Canal shopping, with an antiques shop or two dispersed among the tiny storefronts selling blue-and-white Chinese dinnerware. Just around the corner, peek 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, it sells good-quality Chinese toys, kits, and lanterns.
The Lower East Side: The bargains aren't quite 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 -- but prices on leather bags, shoes, luggage, linens, and fabrics on the bolt are still quite good. Be aware, though, that the hard sell on Orchard Street can be pretty hard to take. Still, the district is a nice place to discover a part of New York that's disappearing. Come during the week; many stores are Jewish-owned and therefore close Friday afternoon and all day Saturday. Sunday tends to be a madhouse.
The artists and other trendsetters who have been turning this neighborhood into a bastion of hip have also added a cutting edge to its shopping scene in recent years. 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 for 20-somethings, plus funky retro furnishings, Japanese toys, and other offbeat items. Before you browse, stop in at the Lower East Side Visitor Center, 261 Broome St., between Orchard and Allen streets (tel. 866/224-0206 or 212/226-9010; subway: F to Delancey St.), for a shopping guide that includes vendors both Old World and new. Or you can preview the list online at www.lowereastsideny.com.
Soho: People love to complain about superfashionable SoHo -- it's become too trendy, too tony, too Mall of America. True, J. Crew is only one of many big names that have supplanted many of the artists' lofts that used to inhabit its historic buildings. But SoHo is still one of the best shopping 'hoods in the city -- and few are more fun to browse. The elegant cast-iron architecture, the cobblestone streets, the distinct rich-artist vibe: SoHo has a look and feel unlike any other Manhattan neighborhood.
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 such recognizable names as Pottery Barn, Banana Republic, Sephora, and A/X Armani Exchange. H&M, the popular Swedish department store with cutting-edge fashions sold at unbelievably low prices, has two stores that face one another on Broadway. Bloomingdale's has opened up a downtown branch in the old Canal Street Jeans space. Prada's flagship store, also on Broadway, is worth visiting for its spacious, almost soothing design alone (by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaus). A definite highlight is the two-story Pearl River Chinese emporium, which offers everything from silk cheongsam (traditional Chinese high-necked dress) to teaware.
The big names in avant-garde fashion have landed in SoHo, but you'll also find one-of-a-kind boutiques, such as the Hat Shop, 120 Thompson St., between Prince and Spring (tel. 212/219-1445), a full-service milliner for women that also features plenty of off-the-rack toppers, plus shoe stores galore and high-end home design and housewares boutiques.
Nolita: 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. Elizabeth and neighboring Mott and Mulberry streets are dotted with an increasing number of shops between Houston Street and the Bowery. It's an easy walk from the Broadway/Lafayette stop on the F, V line to the neighborhood, since it starts just east of Lafayette Street; you can also take the 6 to Spring Street, or the N, R to Prince Street and walk east from there.
Nolita is clearly the stepchild of SoHo -- meaning don't expect cheap. Its wall-to-wall boutiques are largely the province of sophisticated shopkeepers specializing in high-quality fashion-forward products and design. More and more, it's become a beacon of ethnic designs from around the world. Indomix (232 Mulberry St.; tel. 212/334-6356; www.indomix.com) offers beautiful beaded tunics and other colorful South Asian styles by five top designers in India. Sol (6 Prince St.; tel. 212/966-0002; www.solnewyork.com) sells everything Brazilian, from the über flip-flop, Havianas, to teeny-weeny bikinis. Texan-born designer and skateboarder Tracy Feith (209 Mulberry St.; tel. 212/334-3097) creates irresistibly pretty slip dresses, skirts, and tops in eye-popping colors and light-as-air Indian silk in his eponymous store on Mulberry Street.
The East Village: The East Village personifies bohemian hip. The easiest subway access is the 6 train to Astor Place, which lets you right out at Astor Wines & Spirits; from here, it's just a couple blocks east to the prime hunting grounds.
East 9th Street between Second Avenue and Avenue A is lined with an increasingly smart collection of boutiques, proof that the East Village isn't just for kids anymore. Designers, including Jill Anderson and Huminska, sell excellent-quality and original fashions for women along here.
If it's strange, illegal, or funky, it's probably available on St. Marks Place, which takes over for 8th Street, running east from Third Avenue to Avenue A. This strip is a permanent street market, with countless T-shirt and boho jewelry stands. The height of the action is between Second and Third avenues, which is prime hunting grounds for used-record collectors.
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 mid-century 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. Either take the 6 train to Astor Place and work your way south, get off at Spring Street and walk north, or take the F or V to Broadway-Lafayette and get dropped off in the heart of the action. Highlights include Guéridon, at no. 359, between Bleecker and Bond streets (tel. 212/677-7740; www.gueridon.com), for sophisticated 20th-century European pieces, mainly French, plus some original designs in the same vein.
Dispersed among the furniture and design stores are a number of clothiers, including Ghost (28 Bond St.; tel. 646-602-2891), featuring upscale bohemian designs for women -- no girl stuff, thank you very much.
Greenwich Village: The West Village is great for browsing and gift shopping. Specialty bookstores and record stores, antiques and crafts 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 boutique food shops, including Amy's Bread, Wild Edibles, and Murray's Cheese (in a large new space). In between are record stores, guitar shops, and a sprinkling of artsy boutiques. Past narrow Christopher Street, the center of gay Village life, Bleecker becomes boutique alley, where one jewel box of a shop follows still another. Among them: Intermix, Olive & Bette, Ralph Lauren, Lulu Guinness, and Marc Jacobs.
Those who really love to browse should also wander west of Seventh Avenue and along Hudson Street, where charming shops like House of Cards and Curiosities, 23 Eighth Ave., between Jane and 12th streets (tel. 212/675-6178), the Village's own funky take on an old-fashioned nickel-and-dime, are tucked among the brownstones.
Chelsea/Meat-Packing District: Almost overnight, it seems, West Chelsea 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 from 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 Meat-Packing 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. 212/929-7180), Christian Louboutin (59 Horatio St.; tel. 212/255-1910), and Alexander McQueen (417 W. 14th St.; tel. 212/645-1797) in residence. Jeffrey New York, an offshoot of the Atlanta department store, has pricey designer clothes, an amazing shoe collection, and the friendliest staff in New York.
Union Square/The Flatiron District: The hottest shopping/eating/hanging-out neighborhood in the city may be Union Square. The long-forlorn south side of the square is now a mega shopping area with Whole Foods, Filene's Basement, and DSW (Designer Shoe Warehouse). Just to the right is a Virgin Megastore. On the north side of the park, Barnes & Noble is situated in a beautifully restored 1880 cast-iron building. Of course, the beating heart of Union Square is the 4-days-a-week Greenmarket, the biggest farmer's market in the city.
On Broadway, just a few blocks north of Union Square, is the amazing 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 size and shape.
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 much that's new along here, but it's a pleasing stretch nonetheless.
When 23rd Street was the epitome of New York uptown fashion more than 100 years 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 were long ago abandoned and left to rust. In the last several years, however, the area has become the city's discount shopping center, with superstores and off-pricers filling up the renovated spaces: Filene's Basement, TJ Maxx, and Bed Bath & Beyond are all at 620 Sixth Ave., while Old Navy is next door, and Barnes & Noble is just a couple of blocks away at Sixth Avenue near 22nd Street.
Herald Square & The Garment District: Herald Square -- where 34th Street, Sixth Avenue, and Broadway converge -- is dominated by Macy's, the self-proclaimed world's biggest department store. At Sixth Avenue and 33rd Street is the Manhattan Mall (tel. 212/465-0500; www.manhattanmallny.com), home to mall standards like LensCrafters and Radio Shack.
A long block over on Seventh Avenue, not much goes on in the grimy, heavily industrial Garment District. This is, however, where you'll find that quintessential New York experience called the sample sale.
Times Square & The Theater District: You won't find much to entice the serious shopper here, since you can find most of the goods that are sold here back home. The best of the Times Square stores is Richard Branson's rollicking Virgin Megastore, and the fabulous Toys "R" Us flagship on Broadway and 44th Street, which even has its own full-scale Ferris wheel.
West 47th Street between Fifth and Sixth avenues is the city's famous Diamond District.
You'll also notice a wealth of electronics stores throughout the neighborhood, many suspiciously trumpeting GOING OUT OF BUSINESS sales. These guys have been going out of business since the Stone Age. That's the bait and switch; pretty soon you've spent too much money for not enough stereo. If you want to check out what they have to offer, go in knowing the going price on that PDA or digital camera you're interested in. You can make a good deal if you know exactly what the market is, but these guys will be happy to suck you dry given half a chance.
Fifth Avenue & 57th Street: The heart of Manhattan retail ranges up Fifth Avenue to 57th Street and across. Time was, only the very rich could shop these sacred crossroads. Such is not the case anymore, now that Tiffany & Co., which has long reigned supreme here, sits a stone's throw from Niketown and the NBA Store and the huge Louis Vuitton flagship store at the corner of 57th Street and Fifth Avenue. In addition, a good number of mainstream retailers, like Banana Republic, have flagships along Fifth, further democratizing the avenue. Still, 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 along here, as well as chi-chi department stores like Bergdorf Goodman, Henri Bendel, and Saks Fifth Avenue, all of which help the avenue maintain its classy cachet.
Mall with a View: The Shops at Columbus Circle mall, located in the Time Warner Center, features not only some of the biggest (and most expensive) names in retail, it also offers shopping with a view of Central Park. Located just off the southwest corner of Central Park, the mall is 2 city blocks long and four stories high. But does the picturesque view really matter to the shoppers who set their sights on the goods at retailers like Williams Sonoma, A/X Armani Exchange, Coach, Hugo Boss, Joseph Abboud, Eileen Fisher, Thomas Pink, Border's Books, and the massive 59,000-square-foot Whole Foods Supermarket? For more information, and a complete list of stores, check the mall's website at www.shopsatcolumbus.com or call tel. 212/823-6300.
Madison Avenue: Madison Avenue from 57th to 79th streets has usurped Fifth Avenue as the tony shopping street in the city; in fact, it 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 those of us without unlimited budgets, the good news is that stores like Crate & Barrel and the Ann Taylor flagship make the untouchable Madison Avenue seem approachable and affordable.
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 young hipsters and families line both sides of the pleasant avenue from 66th Street (where you'll find an excellent branch of Barnes & Noble) to about 86th Street. Highlights include Maxilla & Mandible for museum-quality natural science-based gifts, and Harry's Shoes, but you won't lack for good browsing along here. The Shops at Columbus Circle also offers a world of upscale choices for shopping.
Shopping One Two Five Street: Maybe it was the arrival of Bill Clinton on the block. Or maybe it's just part of a Harlem renaissance. Whatever the reason, 125th Street is more vibrant than ever; a true shopping thoroughfare, especially on the blocks between St. Nicholas Avenue and Fifth Avenue. Big chains like Old Navy, The Children's Store, H&M, The Body Shop, Starbucks, and Modell's have recently set up franchises on 125th. Not everyone is happy with this retail gentrification, believing that Harlem might be losing its identity. But sprinkled among the big names are still plenty of stores that represent that unique Harlem character. Hip-hop boutiques like Jimmy Jazz, 239 West 125th St., near Frederick Douglass Boulevard (tel. 212/664-2877), and Dr. Jay's at 256 W. 125th St., between Lenox and Seventh avenues (tel. 212/665-7795), and Jersey Man Cap, USA 112 W. 125th St., between Lenox and Fifth avenues (tel. 212/222-7942), where you can get anything from a Kangol cap to Girbaud Femme are mainstays on The Street. Since 1979, the 125th St. Record Shack at 274 W. 125th St., between Lenox Avenue and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard, has been selling jazz, gospel, R&B, doo-wop, and hip-hop, the music usually carrying well out into the already loud street.
At the West African importer African Paradise, 27 W. 125th St., at Lenox Avenue (tel. 212/410-5294), you'll find all the supplies you'll ever need for ancestral worship.
On your shopping tour, you might get hungry -- and there is no shortage of places to eat. Skip the usual fast-food options and try the local grub at places like the M&G Diner, 383 W. 125th St., at St. Nicholas Avenue (tel. 212/864-7325), where you'll get some of the best fried chicken in the city. For coffee, some fine pie, and even a martini, don't miss Wimp's Southern-Style Bakery, Skye Café and Martini Bar, 29 W. 125th St., between Fifth and Lenox avenues (tel. 212/410-2296). For a cultural diversion, stop in at the Studio Museum in Harlem, 144 W. 125 St., between Lenox Avenue and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard (tel. 212/864-4500), which also features an interesting gift shop.
THE OUTER BOROUGHS
Brooklyn is becoming a shopping destination in its own right, and the best can be found in Williamsburg. To get to the prime shopping in Williamsburg, take the L train, which runs across 14th Street, and get off at the first stop in Brooklyn, Bedford Avenue. Walk out of the subway towards Bedford (not Driggs). Most of the shops in Williamsburg are on Bedford, including the vintage music and clothing store Beacon's Closet, 88 N. 11th St. (tel. 718/486-0816); Metaphors, 195 Bedford Ave. (tel. 718/782-0917), a New-Age gift shop that also carries women's clothing and lingerie; and Crypto, 154 Bedford Ave. (tel. 718/486-6779), for ultrahip clothing and accessories. The Bedford Avenue Mini Mall, 218 Bedford Ave. (tel. 718/302-9337; www.miniminimarket.com), has a conglomerate of stores, including Spoonbill & Sugartown Booksellers (tel. 718/387-7332), purveyors of art and architecture books, and Otte (tel. 718/302-3007), where you can find Juicy Couture and Cosa Bella underwear.
The other burgeoning area in Brooklyn is DUMBO (that's Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass), and high-end stores are beginning to move in, including Jacques Torres Chocolates, and a warehouse outlet of ABC Carpet, 20 Jay St. (tel. 718/643-7400; www.abchome.com).
There is not much fine shopping in any of the other boroughs, with the very notable exception of the Arthur Avenue Retail Market located in the Little Italy of the Bronx.
For a complete listing of Frommer's-reviewed stores, visit our online shopping index.
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