Sunday, November 26, 2017

Thoughts about holiday shopping... a look back

Holiday shopping in New York, meaning Manhattan, was always a looked forward to event.  Interesting stores and markets are abundant of course, and they change from year to year.  Regulars are many, starting with the holiday market at Union Square which has at least 80 specialty stalls selling crafts, items of clothing, spices, foods, cups, scarves, mittens, and on and on, plus snacks for immediate consumption.  Near Union Square is Paragon Sports, the place for athletic wear, jackets, and coats, and almost anything related to sports.  Their selection is exceptional, brands not seen everywhere and prices that are competitive.

Going downtown to the village area there once was Balducci's, a wonderful cramped store full of interesting food made there or imported from around the world.  Its 7th avenue location did not satisfy the next generation of the family owned business so in the late 90's they moved the store to 8th avenue and 14th in a former bank building plus started a mail order business.  It went bankrupt after that and is mentioned because for many years it was a central part of holiday shopping here.

Nearby on Christoper Street is Li-Lac Chocolates, still thriving and after 1999 it expanded, now five stores total around Manhattan.  Its butter crunch was a favorite of all here, and its chocolates are special, all made just for this area.  To my knowledge there is no mail order business and it is well managed still.  Further downtown in Soho shops changed frequently but once there was a sock store on West Broadway that was a gold mine for family presents.  Over on 3rd avenue there is the original Kiehl's store near 14th street, another enterprise that has expanded over the years.  Soaps and lotions from that store were once prized, but now they may be somewhat ubiquitous to knowing shoppers.

Uptown, there are the fancy Madison Avenue shops, most of which now have outlets at a shopping plaza a few miles from here.  In the 80's they did not and very special purchases were at times, say infrequently, made there.  One exception was the N. Peal store on 57th Street near Lex.  The sweaters and scarfs there were first learned about at the Burlington Arcade in London, and gifts from there for family members, parents included, were exceptional purchases.  That falls in the expensive but worth it category for quality and longevity.

Moving down to the 40's, there was the dearly departed and exceptional Gotham Book Mart on 47th street near 6th Avenue.  In business since the 1920's, it had been a haven for the literate, from curious readers to aspiring or successful writers.  The sign over the door said, "Wise Men Fish Here".  After various struggles with ownership and real estate it closed about 10 years ago.  The Grand Central Markets to the east opened in the 90's and with its own food area plus an area for booths akin to Union Square, though far fewer, which made had some usual shops and some shops with artwork that was clever or attractive.  In the Penn Station area at 9th avenue and 35th was B&H Photo, which specialized in cameras, but had other types of audio visual equipment as well.  It fit my interest as well as that of a true camera afficionado and talent here.

During days of shopping, or in the city for any reason, there would often be a stop at 9th avenue and 21st and 22nd street.  There is La Bergamote, an exceptional coffee, pastry, and dessert store at 21st, in larger but less intimate quarters since 2010, and just above on 22nd Le Grainne Cafe, a French breakfast and lunch place where everything is good and reasonable.  The onion soup and salade nicoise were favorites.  The merguez sandwich was special too.

All of that was part of the holidays, some originating with Kathy, some with me, and others jointly.
They are recommended still.  Walking in the city is free and great entertainment on its own, especially in the holidays as people from all over the world roam around.

Postscript, 11/27 --- The shopping expeditions described began in 1981 and continued in their full form until 2012.  One aspect not mentioned --- almost every year part of the last pre-Christmas trip was to visit a fortune teller.  They were a few around the village and up to 14th street.  At times they were amazingly good at their trade, other times not so much.  The good news was that there was never any overt attempt to hoodwink me, or seek information that could be compromising.


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