NEW YORK -- The price tags in the stores this year read like a Christmas wish come true. If you stick to the sales, you ought to be able to cut your holiday costs by one third. A reporter for this column, Amy Eskind, went looking for the biggest discounts in her shopping area, which is New York City. Her report:
"I have 36 people on my list, from 6-week-old cousin Sara Anne to 87-year-old grandmother Florence, with 13 men, 14 women, six boys and one girl in between. Naturally, I am thrilled to learn that retailers are having a terrible selling season. 'Poor them,' I think. 'Lucky me.' So I hit the biggest stores, looking for sales.
"I start with Macy's, 'the world's largest store.' It's said to be on the brink of bankruptcy. Much as I hate to take advantage of a 132-year-old when it's down, I'm there not just to shop but to squeeze. I go on a Tuesday night before the Wednesday one-day sale. Surprise! The sale is already on and the mobs aren't there yet.
"But I learn quickly that you can't find a bargain just by reading the signs.
"Take ladies gloves, '25 percent off.' I see some nice lamb's-wool gloves with black rabbit-fur cuffs, regularly $20, now $15. But as I'm choosing which color to buy, another shopper comes over to tell me she bought the gloves at a small store across the street for $9.99. 'Same ones, great deal, huh?' she says, giving me directions to the other store.
"After that, I dismiss discounts of only 25 percent. I eye a 40 percent-off offer at the Fendi purse counter. The sign says, 'Sale $30 to $285, Regular $50 to $475.' I ask for the $30 item. There aren't any left.
"Over at the Swatch counter, the salesperson says that Swatches never go on sale. Already, I am exhausted.
"I do find some great deals, though, like a headband covered in a funky print fabric. It's a mere $2.50, marked down from $12.
"Macy's Cellar is Mecca for the new 'puppies' -- poor urban professionals who have rediscovered home life. An Osterizer blender at $29.99 down from $55. An optic-crystal ice bucket, $10 down from $20. A 32-piece set of Luminarc glassware at $10. I couldn't find the glassware's regular price, but I know a steal when I see one.
"For the kiddies, I stop in at F.A.O. Schwarz. But all the sale items are tucked away. The toys that are out, for the children to play with and fall in love with, are at full price. I find a $180 small stuffed buffalo marked down to $125. It's a bad start. When I see a $56 plastic attache case and 'office copier' on sale for $28, I leave. The children on my list aren't into office copiers.
"Besides, I know that the troubled chain Child World has just announced 30 percent to 50 percent price cuts on the toys children do want, which has already forced the brand new, three-story Toys 'R' Us store in New York to announce a 'clearance' sale.
"Across the street is the new Bergdorf Goodman Men's store, celebrating its first Christmas with giant markdowns on its luxurious menswear. I'd have bought a $389 cashmere polo sweater for my husband (marked down from $585), but I hate to give a present marked 'this is for Christmas, our anniversary, and your next five birthdays.'
"The Saturday one-day sale at Alexander's department store turns up some solid-color sweats, originally $7.99 apiece, now two for $10. The biggest bargains are in costume jewelry at one-third off, but I lost interest when I discovered that to get waited on I had to take a number from a dispenser.
"Across the street is my last stop: Bloomingdales, operating under Chapter 11 of the bankruptcy law. In the men's department, everything for winter is discounted by 25 percent or more. For kids, the biggest bargains are in Dick Tracy paraphernalia: a yellow plastic umbrella, $1.49 from $9; a fanny pack, $1.49 from $8.
"I still have a few presents left to buy, but the closer it gets to Christmas, the better I think the sales will be. You won't see me in the shops again until December 24 -- and then I'll try the discounters, who I hear are discounting their discounts. What a Merry Christmas!"