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My New York is better than yours, part three: Shop

/ Source: Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel

This is a competitive town, especially when it comes to shopping—we regard it as a sport like any other. Do some warm-up exercises at Century 21 (designer clothes at deep discounts) and J&R Music and Computer World (electronics). Limber up at Broadway Panhandler for kitchenwares. Get your heart rate going at Housing Works Thrift Shop, where the proceeds benefit people with HIV/AIDS. If you’re born to shop, though, you’ll want to test your game at some of the secret stashes.

The city is known for its grandes dames of retail, department stores such as Bloomingdale’s and Bergdorf Goodman, all of which can be a fine outing. But the Chinese version, beloved Pearl River Mart, is even more fulfilling. It has a quirky selection of housewares (a lamp in the shape of a take-out carton for $19.50), herbal remedies, musical and writing instruments (calligraphy pens, bamboo flutes), and all kinds of goodies that make creative, inexpensive gifts.

If you’re prowling for smart-looking, well-designed objects for your home, it’s hard to beat—and equally hard to pronounce—Mxyplyzyk (mix-ee-pliz-ik). It’s also hard to say exactly what you’ll find there, since the stock changes frequently, and Mxyplyzyk specializes in things that you can’t get everywhere else. Suffice it to say, kitchenwares, bags, toys.

After you’ve accessorized the rest of your house (or apartment, we New Yorkers being more about the latter) with stuff from Mxyplyzyk, stop by The Bathroom, a store in the West Village with a clear-enough fetish. Savor the fabulous soaps from Europe, as well as towels, skin-care products, and candles, including an alluring cranberry-currant scent from a company called Er’go Candle.

Kids and sweet-toothed adults must put Dylan’s Candy Bar  on their list. A bright, colorful emporium—note the peppermint-swirl bar stools—Dylan’s has it all, from old-fashioned Charleston Chews to Dylan’s own chocolate truffles. The displays are clever. Order an overflowing gift basket devoted to sugary goodness.

No points for decor at the next two spots, but there are treasures within if you’re a book, record, or CD collector. Footlight Records  specializes in original cast recordings, soundtracks, vocalists, and spoken word. So whether you’re clamoring for Rodgers and Hart rarities or an Ennio Morricone film score, this is the place to go. The Strand now proudly boasts “18 miles of books,” on every conceivable subject. The basement is the best: In a fairly organized fashion—surprising, since the Strand isn’t known for its organizational abilities—are reviewers’ copies of new fiction and nonfiction at about half the retail price.

And now, a place that even most New Yorkers haven’t heard of: On the third floor of an office building, the decidedly low-key 17th Street Photo is better than the better-known B&H Photo. A friendly staff offers great prices on cameras (both film and digital), video cameras, photo printers, and binoculars.

If what you’re really interested in is clothing, you’ve come to the right place. New York is full of fashion bargains. The very best way to score designer duds at gentle prices is to hit the sample sales that are held daily. Originally, sample sales consisted of the pieces used in a designer’s showroom or on the runway, but the definition has expanded over the years to include a wide range of never-worn merchandise priced to move. Some sample sales are big, well-planned affairs, others are a mess, and merchandise quality varies. But with a little patience and homework—check New York or Time Out New York magazines the week you’re visiting for current listings—you can save over 90 percent off retail. One place that hosts sales almost every week is called SSS Sample Sale —it’s always worth scoping out.

Another terrific source for clothing deals is vintage or consignment stores. Take the word vintage with a grain of salt: You may indeed snag a ’60s Dior dress or an even earlier couture piece, but only after looking at lots of clothes from as recently as last year. I like browsing the racks at Fisch for the Hip  (the name comes from owner Terriann Fischer), a consignment shop for men and women, because Fischer seems to take in especially sharp pieces, including the usual suspects—Prada, Gucci, et al. Should your purchases need a little extra sizzle, M & J Trimming , in the Garment District, has endless choices of rhinestones, ribbons, buttons, and trim.

One last stop before you head home. Flight 001 stocks anything you need to take some of the sting out of travel: onboard amenity kits, games, sleeping masks, luggage, totes, CD players, and noise-canceling earphones. It’s almost enough to make flying out of JFK bearable.

  • Century 21 22 Cortlandt St., 212/227-9092
  • J&R Music and Computer World Park Row, 212/238-9000
  • Broadway Panhandler 477 Broome St., 212/966-3434
  • Housing Works 143 West 17th St., 212/366-0820; 306 Columbus Ave., 212/579-7566; 202 E. 77th St., 212/772-8461; 157 E. 23rd St., 212/529-5955
  • Bloomingdale’s  59th St. and Lexington Ave., 212/705-2000
  • Bergdorf Goodman Fifth Ave. at 59th St., 800/558-1855
  • Pearl River Mart 477 Broadway, 212/431-4770
  • Mxyplyzyk 125 Greenwich Ave., 212/989-4300
  • The Bathroom 94 Charles St., 800/856-9223
  • Dylan’s Candy Bar 1011 Third Ave., 646/735-0078
  • Footlight Records 113 E. 12th St., 212/533-1572
  • Strand Book Store 828 Broadway, 212/473-1452
  • 17th Street Photo 34 W. 17th St., 3rd fl., 212/366-9870
  • B&H Photo 420 Ninth Ave., 212/444-6615
  • SSS Sample Sale 261 W. 36th St., 2nd fl., 212/947-8748
  • Fisch for the Hip 153 W. 18th St., 212/633-9053
  • M & J Trimming 1008 Sixth Ave., 212/391-9072
  • Flight 001 96 Greenwich Ave., 212/691-1001