Only in New YorkNew York’s retail options can be so overwhelming that it’s easy to stick with what you know. Big brands like H&M, which has locations all over the world, tempt you with massive stores full of fashion-forward fun when you shop Times Square, Soho, or Flatiron. Try skipping the big, ubiquitous names you could shop at home, and visit New York’s signature stores—the ones you can’t find just anywhere. Buy a bag of coffee at Zabar’s, some quirky plates at Fishs Eddy, a book at The Strand, a giraffe stamp at Casey Rubber Stamps, or indie jewelry at Canal Street Market. For our money, these and other homegrown stores furnish New York goodies well worth having. Better yet, only-in-New-York stores provide extra-special gifts for loved ones back home.
Go for the classicsIn the spirit of our first tip, we’ll also plug New York’s many iconic department stores. It’s a destination in and of itself to see the world’s biggest department store, Macy’s Herald Square, as well as other legends like Bloomingdale’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, Bergdorf Goodman, and Barneys. These retailers are filled with impeccable designer goods, attentive customer service, and, in many cases, in-store dining to keep your shopping spree going. Here’s a primer on these classic NYC department stores: Macy’s is the largest, occupying a whole city block in Midtown and containing everything—truly everything—from designer bags to sofas. Bloomingdales is known for exceptional customer service and wide range of price points at its Midtown East location. Saks carries chic designer goods and provides makeovers in its incredible beauty department. Bergdorf Goodman does lots and lots of luxury and a well-known high tea from its iconic Fifth Avenue location, which boasts outrageous, intricate holiday window displays every winter. Barneys is smaller and more cutting-edge, favoring avant-garde brands and editorial looks. Bonus: Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s offer discounts for domestic and international visitors. Stop by the Visitor Center at each retailer to register for your deal!
Know your retail zonesNew York has a few shopping hotspots you don’t want to miss. Here are several of them, plus a selection of key retailers you’ll find in each location:
- Madison Avenue on the Upper East Side: Chloe, Christian Louboutin, YSL, Barneys
- Fifth Avenue in Midtown: Tiffany & Co., Bergdorf Goodman, Saks Fifth Avenue, two Zara locations
- Fifth Avenue in Flatiron: Madewell, J.Crew, Club Monaco, Free People, Anthropologie
- The Shops at Columbus Circle: Sephora, Hugo Boss, Tumi, lululemon
- Times Square: M&M Store, Forever 21, Levi’s, American Eagle, Old Navy
- Soho: Topshop, Bloomingdales Soho, Opening Ceremony, Prada, Intermix
- The Oculus & Brookfield Place: MAC, Tissot, Burberry, Victoria’s Secret, Reiss
- Canal Street in Chinatown: knock-off designer accessories at several vendors (haggling encouraged)
Not all gift shops are created equalThere’s a lot of NYC-themed swag to be had when you shop in the city. Retailers high and low sell it because, well, it sells! While you’re here, you’ll find NYC totes, tees, mugs, and tchotkes everywhere from the bright souvenir shops of Times Square to indie boutiques to swanky department stores. They may be convenient, but the Times Square shops tend to be overpriced; if you’re looking for a Statue of Liberty snow globe for less, shop Memories of New York in NoMad. Museum gift shops provide New York-themed objects as well as thoughtfully designed apparel, home goods, and books to remind you of your trip. We’re partial to The Met Store, MoMA Design Store, New York Public Library Shop, and SHOP Cooper Hewitt. The NBC Experience Store at Rockefeller Center and the HBO Shop near Bryant Park provide branded merchandise from your favorite shows like Friends (NBC) and Game of Thrones (HBO). We’ll plug The Strand a second time, since it carries New York-themed literature and gifts—plus it’s a fun place to spend a few hours among the stacks.
It’s great to shop lateOnce you start on Fifth Avenue or in Soho, you might get a shopper’s high that leaves you trying on shoes past dinnertime. Lucky for you, most retailers (particularly in major shopping areas) stay open until 9pm or later.
Beware hidden costsIn the U.S., sticker price on most items is not what you actually pay at the register. There’s an 8.875% sales tax on most retail items. Budget accordingly. Remember that customs may tax your NYC goods when you bring them back home. The UK, for example, charges a Customs Duty on goods valued over £390. Check on customs regulations for your home country before your trip.
Pack your goods (or ship ‘em)Pack light if you’re expecting to shop a lot in the city. You’ll thank yourself for making extra room for all the gifts and goodies you bring home. Some people even buy extra suitcases for cheap near Times Square in order to transport their purchases home. Might seem inconvenient to lug another piece of luggage to the airport, but checking a bag will likely cost less than shipping everything. If you’re planning to shop big—whether that’s buying lots of clothes or a large item of furniture—ask the retailer to ship your item home. You will likely have to pay for shipping costs, which can be hefty depending on where you live and what the item is. But if you buy a rug at ABC Carpet, for example, there’s no way you’re getting that in your suitcase.
Shop vintage & secondhandNew York is full of fashionistas who cleanse their closets every year. That means the rest of us can swarm the vintage and secondhand shops full of their discarded Chanel suits and Maison Martin Margiela jackets. High-end vintage comes from What Goes Around Comes Around in Soho, carrying mint Chanel handbags, Hermes scarves, vintage concert tees, and much more. The petite Ritual Vintage has a great collection of vintage denim and sparkly evening gowns from the 1930s. Shop INA’s many locations for reasonably priced designer goods for men and women. Williamsburg, Brooklyn arguably has the greatest collection of vintage and secondhand stores in the city. Hit up Beacon’s Closet, Antoinette, Malin Landaeus, Amarcord, and Awoke while you’re shopping with the cool kids on Bedford Avenue.
Visit a sample saleFashion designers have do something with overstock, factory samples, and damaged goods, right? That’s where sample sales come in. These oh-so-New York events take over venues for a limited time and often pop up with little warning. You can score huge deals on Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana, David Yurman, and other luxury brands at these events, which are sometimes held in venues like 260 Sample Sale and clothingline. But know this: there are long lines, often no fitting rooms, and a lack of diverse sizes in these cavernous rooms full of fabulous clothes. But New York shopping culture wouldn’t be the same without the crazy wonder that is a sample sale. Scan sites like ChicMi to look for upcoming sample sales in NYC, and keep an eye on your favorite brands’ social media accounts for announcements.
There’s always moreFor even more shopping destinations, visit cityguideny.com/shopping to search the city’s best stores by neighborhood and category (there are also coupons!).
Shopping Tips When Visiting NYC
New York City: a shopper’s paradise. This city has everything from splashy, multilevel retailers on Times Square to tiny, avant-garde boutiques in Soho, and everything in between. Whether you’re looking for clothes, accessories, home goods, or gifts, read on for how to win at New York shopping when you come this summer for WorldPride. (Pro tip: start saving now.)