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Getaway Guide: Holiday Shopping In Old New York

November 27, 2013 8:00 AM

(credit: Jay Lloyd)

Reporting Jay Lloyd

If you think the Thanksgiving parades in the culturally connected cities of Philadelphia and New York are amazing, just watch the parade up the pike from the Big Scrapple to the Big Apple between now and Christmas! By car, train and bus, Philadelphians are drawn north for shopping in the city that never sleeps. Most visitors head for the glamour and glitz of Fifth Avenue and the big names, F.A.O. Schwartz and Tiffany’s. Still, others head for the boutiques and European designer signatures that line Madison Avenue. But for that truly unique gift at bargain prices, let’s hop on the subway and rumble downtown – way downtown. – Jay Lloyd

(credit: Jay Lloyd)

(credit: Jay Lloyd)


As the 1800s disappeared into the 19th century, Orchard Street on the Lower East Side was teeming with pushcart vendors peddling everything from pickled herring to millinery goods. Then the hawkers became shop keepers and moved into ground floor stores in the tenements that lined the street. These stores, which sell everything from vintage clothing to corsets, are still there and have the same brash style of sales pitch. Many displays are still on the street, and boutique shops have crept into the mix. Still, this is a street where you can bargain. Don’t like the price? Make an offer. Just stroll Orchard Street, window shop and browse from Houston Street to Canal. Make a stop at WORLD HATS (131 Orchard), where my own take on a Sinatra classic was acquired, or MOSCOT EYEWEAR (108 Orchard), which actually began life as a pushcart and is now a go-to spot for trendy frames and sunglasses. You won’t come away empty handed. For a guide to the neighborhood, stop first at the Lower East Side Visitor Center.

Getting there: Take the F train from Times Square to Delancey and Essex. Walk two blocks west on Delancey and then stroll north or south on Orchard.

(credit: Jay Lloyd)

(credit: Jay Lloyd)


While you’re in the neighborhood, you’ll find New York’s colorful Chinatown just a few blocks to the west of Orchard Street. It’s crowded with restaurants and unusual gift shops that sell everything from Asian tchotchkes to irresistible kitchenware. Which brings us to one of my favorite shops…

If it’s something you can use to cook, serve, carve and eat with, you’ll find it at Pearl River — at very tempting prices. From woks to napkin holders, skewers to slicers, it’s all there, and it’s all creatively displayed. This shop just lures you into browsing. Some of my favorite items here for stocking stuffers are the unique, intricately carved and decorated chopsticks. Some even come in artistically crafted cases. Think about your sushi craving friends that rate a small gift; this is for them.


Head south on Broadway to the next street – Grand Street. Then turn east and stroll among the shops that line the heart of Chinatown. Near Eldridge, you’ll find:

Big Hing Wong does brisk business at lunch time, and the menu reads like a tour of Asia. All the dishes familiar to American tastes are there, along with many that are unfamiliar but addictively tempting. The tables are filled with both locals and frequent visitors, suggesting that Chinese treats — from sweet dim sum steamed buns and congee to Peking duck — have a pretty wide appeal. Plus, prices are an absolute bargain for New York.

(credit: Jay Lloyd)

(credit: Jay Lloyd)


The nice thing about smoked fish is that it travels well. It’s also a rare treat for holiday giving, and the fabled place to buy it is one of the last “appetizer stores” remaining in New York. In fact, Russ and Daughters may be the only one left out of hundreds. It started life as a pushcart, hawking pickled herring. To this day, fans spend hours traveling here on weekends for an array of herring, lox, pickles, candies and fancy dried fruit, not to mention bagels and bialys. Except for the perishables and bagels, which have a short shelf life, most of the goodies can be packaged in combination for holiday gift boxes. And the lox goes a long way. Dad would buy a ¼ pound of belly lox here for a family of four.

With a leisurely bit of shopping done for the day, hop back on the subway to Midtown. It’s time to rejoin the crowd for skating and tree gawking at Rockefeller Center.

(credit: Jay Lloyd)

(credit: Jay Lloyd)

A few tips: Manhattan is hectic. While it’s tempting to try to see and do everything, take it in small bites, like our Chinatown and Lower East Side shopping crawl. New York City is not going away, and it can be a comfortable day trip by bus or train for a return visit.

Also, walk as much as you can and use public transit for the rest. If you’d like to spend a night or two, holiday hotel rates will be high, but since few business meetings or conventions are scheduled during this time of year, the hotel prices are often lower during the week than on the weekend, when visitors besiege the city. I’ve found good hotels for under $200 a night.

Finally, pick up a good pocket map that details streets and subway lines. I use the “Streetwise” series combined with the “Embark NYC” transit app for smart phones.

Now, go forth and bring back a bargain!

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