Category Archives: Shopping Distric Series

Shopping: Soho for the Holidays

soho1.jpgIt’s that time of year – gridlock, holiday lights (up since mid-October), clanging of Salvation Army bells, coat drives and of course, shopping! And to help with the holiday shopping (which you should have plenty of time for since you won’t be seeing any Broadway shows just now), I have compiled a new installment of the Greater Gotham Shopping Series.

This time we’re properly downtown – exploring Soho (bounded roughly by Canal, West Houston, Elizabeth and 6th Avenue). The neighboring areas of Tribeca, Nolita, Noho and The Village proper can wait for another day.  So can all the “usual suspects” found in shopping guides to this area – you can find your way to Pottery Barn, Banana Republic, Sephora, Armani Exchange and H&M without my help. There are sites galore – such as Streets of Soho – dying to help you find places like this (even though you can find them anywhere).

So, what are the lesser know, more unique places to shop in Soho?

  • If you have a long list of stockings to stuff, no clue what to get and a budget that doesn’t, at first glance, inspire imaginative gift giving ideas – hie thee to Pearl River Mart , on Broadway near Grand. What is it, you ask? Only an emporium of stunning variety and shelves full of things you know that you need as soon as you see them. Stunning pajamas and slinky, embroidered dresses, birdcages, unusual candy (the shapes and wrapping of which will delight any small fry on your list), stationery you won’t find elsewhere, paper lamps in the traditional shapes or in the shapes of your gift recipients favorite animal, dishes, herbal remedies, window shades, fantastic tote bags and sushi sets. Did I mention the waterfall in the middle of the store. Holiday shopping at Pearl River Mart means you can be generous and thrifty at the same time.
  • Slightly (or greatly) racier stocking stuffers are yours for the asking at Babeland, the bright, shiny fun adult toy store near Mercer and Grand. Well stocked shelves, knowledgeable staff who can interpret a “WTF” face from the other side of the room and explain the function of that item without a qualm, snicker or blush (nothing more annoying than salespeople embarrassed by their products (or worse, overly interested in your personal plans for it). Women will likely find this a much more entertaining shopping experience than men (or at least, most men) but then they have their fair share of adult toy stores so I don’t feel bad for them.
  • Too busy shopping to get to the museums? Don’t feel bad. Combine culture and commerce at the MoMA Design store on Spring Street near Crosby. Not your usual museum shop with overpriced books and the usual postcards. No, this is the ultimately home for form meets function. In the spirit of full disclosure, I admit to mostly going here for inspiration with an occasional purchase. Not that the stuff isn’t lovely and grab-worthy. It is, indeed. But I can’t always bring myself to spend that kind of money on placemats. Still, if you have a design diva on your gift list, someone whose jewelry veers toward the unusual or quirky or someone who’s home needs a punch of color – it worth checking out for that person’s special holiday gift.
  • Do you aspire to be Auntie Mame? Well, holiday time is a key time to make your mark. I don’t know about you but even as an ‘honorary’ aunt, at some point I lose track of how many nieces and nephews I must sort out for the holidays. Girl Props on Prince and Broadway can’t help with the nephews (well, not 3 out of 4 of them, anyway) but the nieces will thrill to the kitschy, neon colored plastic bangles and baubles, the ropes of unnaturally colored “pearls” and rhinestone barrettes.

Of course there are many, many stores in Soho to catch the eye (and the wallet) but you don’t want miss these as you dash about hoping to find everything in good time. It’s even better to shop in Soho when the holidays (and crowds) are not upon us.

Shopping: Union Square

Welcome to the continuing saga of the Greater Gotham Shopping Series. This week’s episode is Union Square: The Comeback.

union square

If you had told me 20 years ago that the Union Square and Flatiron districts were going to end up being one of my shopping destinations of choice, I would have told you that you were out of your mind. First off, it was where I worked so I generally fled as soon as possible and wasn’t about to spend more time there on the weekends. Sure, I went through there to get to the shopping but I didn’t linger. Not much anyway.

Oh, I knew the place was awash in shopping history. It was part of Ladies Mile, after all – the shopping mecca of the mid-19th century. Home to Wanamakers, the original Macy’s Lord & Taylor’s and Tiffany’s. But nothing lasts forever. Over the intervening years, the neighborhood went into decline and stayed there until the Union Square Partnership (the city’s first Business Improvement District) took shape 30 years ago.

Now instead of hurrying away or avoiding the park all together, people flock there for events, rallies (an occasional mass pillow fight) and of course, the Union Square Greenmarket.

The south side of park used to face a very dated, run down commercial building that was empty for years and which gave the whole place a feeling of neglect and abandonment. Now that same street is home to Whole Foods, Filene’s Basement and DSW Shoes, Forever 21 not to mention mega movie theaters (stadium seating at last!) and serves as a much more inviting frame to smaller and equally delightful stores dotted about the surrounding blocks.

Coffee Shop - Union SquareOn the opposite end of the park is the home base of Barnes & Noble, housed in a beautiful 1880 building with cast iron columns and detailing. In the blocks surrounding the north end, you’ll find Fishs Eddy, ABC Carpet and Home (a shopping destination worthy of discussion on it’s own – and don’t worry, we shall) and Paragon Sporting Goods Company.

Around the perimeter of Union Square and in the adjacent blocks, you will find restaurants and eateries to suit every palate and budget. Places like Zen Palate, Coffee Shop, Union Square Cafe, Old Town Bar, Blue Water Grill, Chat’n’Chew, Steak Frites, and Republic along with the yumminess of the greenmarket and other area street vendors.

All of which means that you can shop till you drop, refuel and shop some more. For more information on what there is to do and see and buy in the Union Square area, check out the Union Square Partnership where you can find maps, a schedule of events and area directories

Shopping: Financial District

‘Shopping’ may not be the first word you think of when you think of Manhattan’s Financial District but you know – you might consider adding it to the list. Need proof ?

strand books store at the seaport

South Street Seaport is a good place to start.  True, it’s not the stores that are the draw here – the same shops can be found in malls anywhere – it’s the surroundings. Pier 17 and the cobble-stoned walks, restored and developed so beautifully, offer views and a shopping atmosphere that make even chains stores feel like a special treat. A genuine treat is the Seaport branch of The Strand. Not as crowded and much lighter. A book lovers delight.

Two of the largest stand alone retailers in the city are also found in the area.

  • Century 21 the king of discount department stores, offers bargain hunters thrills and workers downtown a place to go pick up a spare pair of shoes or an extra umbrella at 7:00am.
  • Not to be outdone for floor space or breadth of stock, 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.

And for those who like their shopping mixed with a little history:

  • For nearly 100 years, Barclay Rex has catered to the discriminating pipe and cigar smokers. The original store, located at the corner of Barclay and Church was named not only for it’s location but for the owner’s Great Dane Rex. Everyone loves a dog story.
  • Another long time resident (122 years to be exact) of the Financial District is William Barthman Jewelers. While browsing, you might wonder if you are standing at the very same counter that was once browsed by ‘Diamond’ Jim Brady. You’re very likely right.
  • Should anyone present you with a gift in a package from William Barthman, a thank you note is very much in the cards (sorry – puns happen. what can one do?). If you’re in need of something special enough to match the occasion and you’re downtown in any case, stop by Bowne & Company Stationers to whip a little something up. It’s sur to be unqiue. How many other company’s can trace themselves back to 1775?

Shopping District Series

Why a series of posts on shopping districts? Well, you could just walk out the door and wade in but let’s be honest. There’s superb shopping across the whole city and in the surrounding areas but this is a big place with thousands, tens of thousands of shops. You can get almost anything here. A little structured guidance can’t hurt, right? And then – if you decide to just wander, at least you can tell people it was deliberate and not because you couldn’t find your Flashmaps book.

So check out these areas where ‘stores of a feather have flocked together’ and you can achieve a shopping tour de force and still have time to get a quick nap in before dinner.

  • Soho for the Holidays: This time we’re properly downtown – exploring Soho (bounded roughly by Canal, West Houston, Elizabeth and 6th Avenue).
  • Shopping Union Square: If you had told me 20 years ago that the Union Square and Flatiron districts were going to end up being one of my shopping destinations of choice, I would have told you that you were out of your mind.
  • Shopping: Financial District:‘ Shopping’ may not be the first word you think of when you think of Manhattan’s Financial District but you know – you might consider adding it to the list.

Areas that will be covered in the future include:

  • Garment District: Roughly from West 24th or 25th Street to 40th and spanning Fifth to Ninth Avenue
  • Diamond and Jewelry Districts: West 47th between Fifth Avenue and Sixth Avenue
  • Flatiron District: From 14th to 34th Streets, between Sixth and Park Avenues.

and many, many others.