Welcome to the cheapflights travel podcast. Today, we’re bringing you a guide to shopping in New York with the help of three top bloggers in the city. That’s Lindsey Kelk from lindseykelk.com, Jessi Green from modernwonderland.com, and Tracy Kaler from Tracy’s New York Life.
They’ll be giving me the low down on the best places to shop and how to grab yourself a bargain, helping all you listeners out there to get the most out of a shopping trip in beautiful New York City.
I’m talking to Lindsey Kelk, who is an author and an expert on the New York experience. Thanks for joining us, Lindsey.
Lindsey Kelk: Oh, no problem. Thank you for having me.
Cheapflights: What is it you love most about New York shopping?
Lindsey Kelk: There’s so much to do in New York, regardless of shopping or otherwise. I’ve lived here for nearly four years now, and there’s just something new happening all the time. Shopping, that’s definitely the same. They say it’s the city that never sleeps and the joke is that you can get Chinese food at four in the morning or you can get a taxi at six and it doesn’t matter. Shopping is the same. Anything that you need, you can go and find it.
When it comes to ladies shopping, it’s definitely the case. There’s a million different stores. There’s every trend you could ever hope to try.
Whether it’s you want a Chinese dress that you saw in that movie that looked like that woman or whether you just want the perfect pair of jeans, you’re going to find it. It’s all there.
Cheapflights: Yes because I was going to ask you, how does New York City – well, my original question was going to be how does New York City inspire your style, but is there a style? Is there a New York City style?
Lindsey Kelk: There is and there isn’t. It’s quite strange because I think definitely shows like Sex in the City and movies like The Devil Wears Prada puts New York over as the sheer fashion capital of the world. Obviously Fashion Week and a lot of the designers are based in New York.
I lived in London before I moved to New York and I would definitely say the style in London is a lot more experimental. I think they’re much more of a leader in fashion in England because they’re much more prepared to take chances, whereas New York can be quite conservative and quite safe.
When you think about Manhattan itself, it’s very much a business-led city, so a lot of the fashion choices are limited by that. The big joke is that New Yorkers always wear black, so if you’re coming to New York and you don’t know what to wear, just wear black.
If you go into Brooklyn, you go to Williamsburg, you can go out dressed like a fairy and nobody is going to blink an eye. I used to live in Williamsburg and there was one time I was watching a guy walk down the street, in the middle of the day, Monday afternoon, just walking down the street in a pair of dress shoes, athletic socks, little 1970s running shorts and full dress shirt with a bowtie, and he had a shoelace tied around his head. No one batted an eyelid.
Cheapflights: So that’s not New York, that’s somewhere else.
Lindsey Kelk: Wide open, yes, basically. You want to come dressed like a 118 man on his way out to a black-tie dinner, come to Brooklyn. If you want to go to Manhattan, wear black.
Cheapflights: What at about travelling in New York City, Lindsey? What’s the best way to get around?
Lindsey Kelk: If you can bear it, and honestly it’s scary at first and then it’s fine after a day, but the subway. It’s so great and it’s relatively easy to understand if you have the map. I found it a lot easier than the tube in London when I moved here. Once you’ve got to grip with the colours and the numbers it just seems to make a lot more sense.
At the same time, cabs are dirt cheap. Cabs are really cheap, maybe a third or a quarter of what the cabs are in England. The only issue with cabs is they have shift-change times, so any time between two and four in the afternoon the cabs might be changing shifts and they can be really hard to get hold of. You don’t want to get stuck desperately trying to hail a cab down with 18 shopping bags and you’re desperate for a sit down, a cup of tea and a wee and you can’t have one because you cannot get a cab. That can be tricky.
Cheapflights: If someone is coming to visit New York for the first time, Lindsey, what would your advice be to someone coming for the first time?
Lindsey Kelk: My advice to someone coming for the first time, if they’re coming for shopping?
Lindsey Kelk: Okay, sensible shoes, which goes against everything I believe in, but really, sensible shoes because it’s going to hurt. Make sure you plan lots of sitting down and drinking breaks and know who has the good toilets. That’s also important. There’s an app for that as well, would you believe. There’s a Charmin app that tells you where the best public bathrooms in New York City are. It’s been invented for a reason. I’m very happy with it.
Yes, pace yourself. It gets really overwhelming. The first time I came to New York shopping I came with my girlfriends. I was 25 I think, 26. We’d saved up all year to come on this trip, and we still had money and we all destroyed our credit cards. We started at eight in the morning, I think in December, in Century 21, which is this huge discount designer store downtown. It’s like TK Maxx, but if TK Maxx was the most amazing place you’ve ever been in your entire life, and you will fight for stuff.
We started there at eight in the morning. By midday, I was semi-conscious in an armchair in Abercrombie & Fitch on Fifth Avenue crying, holding my own bag, because I’d never been so tired. I was jet-lagged. I was so tired. I was wet through from the snow because I was wearing Converse and jeans in the snow, not ideal. I was just utterly broken, and I think we’d been to five shops.
I would say don’t do that. Know where you want to go. Do as much research as you can. Try and do it in a geographically sensible pattern, so don’t start in the financial district and then go all the way up to Fifth Avenue and then fall asleep halfway through because your friend won’t fit into a pair of 30-inch-waist jeans and she’s shouting at the shop assistant, which is what happened to me.
Just really think it through. Know what you want, or at least have an idea of the shops you want to go to. If you can’t know what you want, because obviously you’re not used to the shops, know which shops you want to see and try and do it that way.
Cheapflights: That’s fantastic advice. Lindsey, thank you so much.
Lindsey Kelk: No worries. Thank you.
Cheapflights: I’m speaking to Jessi Green in New York. Hello, Jessi.
Jessi Green: Hi.
Cheapflights: There are obviously some peak shopping times, like Christmas, January sales, Black Friday, etc. Do you have any tips for these periods? Where are the best bargains and how can you get them?
Jessi Green: Yes, definitely. Obviously you see a big increase of how many people are in New York City during these times. Black Friday is usually the biggest day, obviously. I would always tell people just really check online first to see what kind of bargains and deals are happening because a lot of times these stores will say that they’re going to have great deals and you spend all this time going and it’s really not a deal at all. Really do your research.
Then something I always do is I take out a notepad and I really map out a plan of what things are necessary things that I’m trying to get, specifically for Christmas, and then what things are just things that I maybe would like to purchase but it’s not that important, in case the line is really long.
Then the last thing is I would say definitely bring a friend. Sometimes the lines can be very, very long and it can really just get boring, so having a friend with you that you can laugh with or grab a cup of coffee with while you’re shopping and just really get their opinion on the items that you’re purchasing. It just makes the whole experience so much better.
Cheapflights: Yes, I totally agree with the bringing a friend thing. It makes such a big difference, doesn’t it?
Jessi Green: Oh my gosh, yes. I once went shopping by myself and it was an absolutely miserable experience.
Cheapflights: Which brings us on very nicely to the next question because shopping is a tiring business. What’s the best food you can think of to fill you up and can you recommend some good places to get it?
Jessi Green: Yes, definitely. Obviously, being in New York City, I love bagels, so I feel like if you’re going to come to New York to shop you definitely want to start off with a classic New York bagel and cream cheese. Plus carbs are good to help you have energy throughout the morning.
I also always make sure to have a really good pause in the afternoon, so actually taking the time to go and have a lunch, enjoy yourself. Take a few hours to eat with your friends. Then a lot of people go to Soho to shop, so there’s a million great, great places. I love this one restaurant called Freemans. It’s very cosy. The food is great. It’s a really cute place.
Honestly, if you just type in ‘restaurants to go to’ so many will pop up. I think that’s actually one of the best things about New York, is the food. Try different cuisines and just really enjoy the food there while you’re shopping as well.
Cheapflights: New York is renowned for its fashion of course, but is there anything else that really sets New York apart from a shopping perspective?
Jessi Green: Yes. I would definitely say the sample sales that we have here. What’s really cool is a lot of these big brands have their showrooms here in New York City, so they’ll often do these huge sample sales. Sometimes you can get really, really nice designer items for almost 80% off.
Jessi Green: Yes, it’s crazy. That’s something that is amazing. This is going to sound funny, but the street shopping. We have a tonne of vendors and local designers that just set up tables on the street and sell their items. Some of the best stuff that you can get is sometimes right on the street.
Cheapflights: That sounds fantastic. Have you got any shopping horror stories from New York?
Jessi Green: Yes, everyday shopping in New York.
Cheapflights: What, like groceries?
Jessi Green: Yes. Honestly, just shopping in New York is very difficult because the thing is, so everyone is coming to shop here in winter and I think everyone forgets how really cold it is here. We don’t have really indoor malls, so every time you leave a store you’re smacked in the face with the cold winter. Then your hands just get tired from holding bags. It’s a long process and you definitely need a full day to recover afterwards. It’s just hard to shop here in general, but it’s always really worth it.
Cheapflights: Jessi, thank you so much for speaking to us.
Jessi Green: Thank you so much for having me.
Cheapflights: I’m speaking to Tracey Kaler, who is a blogger in New York. Hello, Tracy.
Tracy Kaler: Hello. How are you?
Cheapflights: I’m pretty good. Thanks so much for joining us.
Tracy Kaler: Thank you for having me.
Cheapflights: New York if renowned for its fashion of course, but is there anything else that sets New York apart from a shopping perspective?
Tracy Kaler: In New York, you can buy just about anything on the street. The street vendors here are really an important part of the culture. Depending on what you’re looking for, what your budget is, in New York City you can do your shopping without ever entering a store.
Now, these aren’t going to be high-end items. The quality, depending on the vendor, can be questionable, but for stocking stuffers or for those who are on really a strict budget but they want the New York shopping experience and want to bring some things back that they purchased in New York, the street vendors are fabulous.
Another thing that I love about shopping in New York is the blocks of boutiques. We’re talking 10/15/20 blocks on one avenue, many unique stores, one right after the other. If you shop on Fifth Avenue, if you shop on Madison Avenue, it’s just block after block. You never even have to leave those streets.
Many of those boutiques will be on the higher end, some will be in the middle, so there is a combination. Uniqlo, for instance, is very affordable. Well, that’s on Fifth Avenue among the really high-end shops. You get a mix, but I love that aspect of shopping in New York that you really can just walk one of our main streets, and we have so many, and you can just shop and shop and shop block after block.
Cheapflights: Now, imagine someone has come to New York for shopping and is strictly limited to spending $100 per day on shopping, where would you go and what would you buy?
Tracy Kaler: I would go to Century 21, which is another great discount department store. We have one on the upper west side, not too far from where I live actually, near Lincoln Centre. There’s one downtown as well. It’s a huge discount store with fantastic deals and selections.
With $100, I would walk into the store at Lincoln Centre, the ground floor. They have fabulous handbags and accessories. I would go in there and I’d buy a great bag, maybe a great scarf, and, if I had a little bit of money left over, maybe a piece of jewellery. You can really do well there for $100.
Cheapflights: Now, on the subject of off the beaten path, many people love vintage and markets are often the best place to pick up rare and unusual items. Are there any in New York that you can recommend?
Tracy Kaler: Well, the flea markets in New York are really fabulous. We have one in Chelsea, we have one in Hell’s Kitchen in Manhattan. I want to say they run just about every weekend, so you would definitely want to check out the flea markets. There’s also Brooklyn Flea in Brooklyn and that one is fabulous as well. You can always get great, unusual tchotchkes and jewellery and small trinkets to take back with you. If you’re more local, obviously they have larger items, like antiques, etc. The flea markets are a great place.
We also have lots of second-hand stores that are throughout all the neighbourhoods in New York City. There are many in Brooklyn and the East Village. One that is really great is the house works shops. It’s also a non-profit and so it benefits charity, which is really fabulous. Those are all throughout Manhattan. There are many neighbourhoods have the Housing Works Thrift Shops. That’s one of my favourites in the city.
Cheapflights: Let’s talk about Christmas. Where are the best Christmas shops and window displays for adults and kids?
Tracy Kaler: Bergdorf’s, which is at 58th and 5th, is my favourite. Their holiday window displays are avant-garde and stunning and really beautiful, unique. From year to year they change their windows and they’re really wonderful. These are going to be for adults though.
Kids and adults will love Macy’s. Macy’s windows are very classic old New York Christmas, as well as Lord and Taylor. I love their windows and children love their windows. Bloomingdale’s is also worth checking out. They always do really innovative windows, and that’s going to be Midtown East, like 60th and Lexington.
The holiday markets at Bryant Park and Union Square and Columbus Circle are really fun for everyone, for any age. They’re like mini Christmas villages in the city and local vendors sell their handcrafted items. The whole scene is very festive, so it’s really a fun night or a fun day out for the family.
One other thing I want to mention that’s really fabulous that’s also at Columbus Circle is the Time Warner building. It’s a mini mall. We’re not really fans of malls in New York City, but it’s a really special building and it’s more like interior shopping, but it’s not like your typical mall that you would find in the suburbs. You’ll find great shops and the décor at the holidays is really fabulous. Time Warner building is worth checking out.
Cheapflights: Sounds wonderful. Do you have any recommendations for things to do besides shopping? We all know about the main landmarks, but is there anything less well known that people should visit?
Tracy Kaler: The High Line, which is becoming more of a landmark, but it’s not quite as well known yet because it’s relatively new, is really a fabulous place to visit. It’s a park, basically, but it was built, many years in planning, on a train line. It’s an elevated line that became a park. It’s absolutely gorgeous. The views are fabulous. The landscaping, words can’t even describe it. Pictures don’t even capture it.
I’d really recommend a walk on the High Line if the weather is cooperative. Obviously if it’s 10 degrees and a blizzard or pouring down rain – but even in the cold, the High Line is lovely. Then of course in spring and summer and fall when it’s more temperate, it’s really, really lovely.
The other place that I recommend for a daytrip outside of Manhattan that I have done and love is Little Italy in the Bronx. Not the Little Italy in Manhattan, but Little Italy in the Bronx is like the real Little Italy and it is like stepping back in time. It’s a really charming neighbourhood, for foodies and anyone who loves Italian culture.
You can take a tour so that you don’t have to worry about not knowing where you’re going. That’s what I did when I went. I just loved it. It’s just shop upon shop of Italian meats and pastas and pastries and places to eat and places to browse. It’s like stepping back in another time. It’s not like living in 2014. It’s a hop, skip and a jump really from Manhattan.
Cheapflights: Well, Tracy, thanks so much for your insights in New York. It sounds absolutely wonderful.
Tracy Kaler: Thank you. Thank you for having me.
Cheapflights: Once again, thank you to Lindsey, Jessi and Tracy for some really fantastic advice and insights on shopping in New York City. In the next podcast we’ll be chatting to airport officials and even Cheap Flights’ own psychologist, looking into premium travel and those of us in economy class can get the luxury experience without the extra cost. Don’t miss it. We’ll see you next time.
(Feature image: Anthony Quintano)
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