Who Needs Fifth Avenue

Manhattan offers a wealth of holiday shopping in four of the Big Apple's colorful but lesser-known neighborhoods.

New York

Cover Story

November 23, 2003|By Stephen G. Henderson | Stephen G. Henderson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

There are always plenty of reasons to visit Manhattan -- seeing a Broadway show, touring extraordinary museums or dining in high style being just a few. But let's be honest. As the holiday season approaches, one of the city's chief attractions is world-class shopping.

So it's distressing that some of Gotham's most prestigious retail areas -- Rockefeller Center, 57th Street and Soho -- have become crowded of late with the same shops you can find at the local mall. Do you really need to brave New York City to buy something at the Disney Store or the Gap? No, indeed.

Pack up your credit cards, then, and journey to some lesser-known neighborhoods, such as the meatpacking district, Greenwich Village, Nolita and upper Madison Avenue, where you'll find gifts for loved ones (or yourself) that are truly unusual.

Shopping in any of these four spots puts a delightful twist on the Frank Sinatra lyric from New York, New York -- if you can buy it here, you can't buy it anywhere else.

Meatpacking district

In the late 19th century, this section of lower Manhattan (which neatly divides Chelsea from Greenwich Village) was a busy wholesale market for produce called the Gansevoort Market. It was named for Gen. Peter Gansevoort, who was a hero in the Revolutionary War and, coincidentally, was also Herman Melville's grandfather.

In 1949, this area changed from being a market for fresh fruit and vegetables to a place where carcasses of beef, pork, veal and chicken were sold to the city's supermarkets and restaurants.

Though butchering facilities are still visible, within the last half-dozen years, West 14th Street between Eighth Avenue and the West Side Highway has also become home to the city's most chic boutiques, restaurants, galleries, nightclubs and bars.

Take a whiff -- you can still smell carnage in these cobblestoned streets. Is that from a side of beef or a knock-down drag-out fight between two bargain-hunters over a sale-priced sweater? Only in the meatpacking district is being fashionable a blood sport.

Not too long ago at Jeffrey, the apparel store that started the influx of high-end retailers to this neighborhood, a dazed-looking woman sat surrounded by high piles of open shoeboxes. She gazed up at her salesman and asked plaintively, "Do you remember which pair I tried on first?"

He shook his head, and they both laughed. You may become similarly overwhelmed by Jeffrey's treasure trove of women's and men's fashions, jewelry, housewares and cosmetics.

Push a large square doorbell at Alexander McQueen, the enfant terrible of London haberdashery, and an oversized glass door swings slowly open, admitting you to a vista of over-the-top women's fashion. Zippers are apparently big this year at McQueen. A black and white embroidered fur ($4,375) has three zippered hemlines, making it a bomber jacket, car coat or mid-calf style.

Nearby is Stella McCartney, the daughter of ex-Beatle Paul, who continues to turn out women's clothes that rock and roll. Her thigh-high "bondage" boots (starting at $1,400) are a big hit this season. And, Carlos Miele, a Brazilian designer, has draped, slinky clothes that make any woman instantly able to dance the samba -- or at least look like she can.

Julian Santiago, co-owner of Artsee, likes to call himself "the tailor of eyewear." Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore and Kim Cattrall have all visited his shop to order one-of-a-kind spectacles. Santiago also collects and sells vintage designs. Have him show you the enormous orange sunglasses that once belonged to Jackie O. They can be yours for only $3,000.

Are all those outfits in Size 2 and 4 making you hungry? Then head to the Chelsea Market -- a former Nabisco Factory where Oreos were invented in 1912. Now, it's a tasty complex of food shops. If all those fresh ingredients make you long for your own kitchen, check out Bodum, an inexpensive and well-stocked cooking gadget shop. The Specialty Coffee Association of America recently declared Bodum's new Santos coffee maker ($99.99) "the best brewing equipment of the year."

There's an exquisite collection of Swedish and French antiques at Lars Bolander's newly opened boutique. His linen pillows with an appliqued pattern of sea coral ($375) would look smart on any furniture at the Design within Reach store a few blocks away. A tufted leather and chrome steel Pavilion Chair ($1,995), designed by Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe for the 1929 International Exhibition in Barcelona, still looks fresh today; as do the prints of Andy Warhol (starting at $25,000) on display at Wooster Projects.

Even if you don't want a rainbow-colored Elizabeth Taylor, Chairman Mao or Franz Kafka hanging in your den, these vibrant silk-screens retain their shock value and are well worth a look.

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