This is an excerpt from the Shopping chapter of Lonely Planet's New York City guide.
To the question ‘Where do I shop?’, NYC answers ‘How much you got?’ Well-funded shoppers head to Midtown’s Fifth Ave and the Upper East Side’s Madison Ave. SoHo has high-end boutiques stocking the wares of international and famous local designers, while Nolita has smaller boutiques of expensive, up-and-coming stylists. The Lower East Side and the East Village are traditional enclaves of vintage and indie fashion. The West Village has tiny, well-known boutiques, while the Meatpacking District is home to designer havens. Midtown is the place for big-box retailers like Macy’s.
These days, SoHo is one big shopping mall, with high-end fashion well represented along West Broadway between Houston and Grand Sts. Credit-card companies generally do quite well after you visit SoHo. There are many ways to rack up debt at this major shopping destination, with hundreds of stores, big and small, scattered along its streets. Broadway is one of the main corridors, and is lined with less expensive chain stores. Hidden west along the tree-lined streets are pricier boutiques selling clothing, shoes, accessories and housewares. During the warmer months, you’ll also find street vendors hawking jewelry, art, T-shirts, hats and other crafts.
Less touristy than SoHo, Nolita (Mott St between Houston and Broome Sts) has lovely little clothing, shoe and accessory shops carrying up-and-coming designers. If indie is your thing, continue east to Nolita, home of tiny jewel-box boutiques selling unique apparel, footwear, accessories and kitschy stuff at marginally lower prices than SoHo stores. Mott St is best for browsing, followed by Mulberry and Elizabeth.
For edgier fashions and urban style, begin your Lower East Side explorations on Orchard between Houston and Grand Sts. The downtown fashion crowd looking for that edgy, experimental, or ‘old-school hip-hop’ look head to the shops in the Lower East Side. Sprinkled among the area’s many bars and restaurants are dozens of stores selling vintage apparel, vegan shoes, one-of-a-kind sneakers, old-fashioned candy, sex toys, left-wing books and more. You’ll find the most shops on Orchard and Ludlow Sts, between Houston and Delancey Sts, but it’s worth wandering to other strips, too.
East 9th St
More pleasant than chaotic St Marks Pl one block south, East 9th between Second Ave and Ave A is a good intro to the vintage stores and curio shops of the East Village. Once the archetype of underground, downtown style, the East Village is doing some soul searching (some might say ‘selling’) these days. You’ll still find urban and outsider fashion, but new local designers, sleeker shops and even chain stores have moved into the area, blunting the neighborhood’s former edginess. Still, there’s more than a whiff of those rockin’ ’80s days at punk-rock T-shirt shops, tattoo parlors and dusty stores selling furniture and vintage clothing, and the record stores are the real deal, with New York’s best selection of vinyl.
Proudly flying the rainbow colors, Christopher St between Greenwich and W 4th Sts has its fair share of leather and sex shops, with some friendly bars and cafes along the way. There’s much more color along Christopher St, with its stores selling leather play gear and rainbow-colored T-shirts. Tourist hordes, meanwhile, come to the more central poster and T-shirt shops along Bleecker between Seventh Ave and La Guardia Pl.
Running south from Abingdon Sq, tree-lined Bleecker (between Bank and W 10th Sts) is sprinkled with eye-catching storefronts and boutiques selling trendy apparel. The picturesque, tranquil streets of the West Village are home to some lovely boutiques, with a few antique dealers, bookstores, record stores, and quirky gift and curio shops adding a bit of eclecticism to an otherwise fashionfocused ’hood. High-end shoppers stick to top-label stores along Bleecker St between Bank and W 10th.
Between Central Park and Rockefeller Center, this commercial strip is the El Dorado of shopping. Stepping into Tiffany’s, Bergdorf’s and Takashimaya is just the beginning… A vast sea of concrete and chaos, Midtown offers shopping delights for commoner and debutante alike. Those with cash head north to movie-famed Fifth Ave and 59th St, gateway to the Garden of Eden as far as luxury goods are concerned. Here, fabled jewelers like Tiffany & Co and Cartier hold court, alongside the gilded department stores of Bergdorf Goodman and Henri Bendel. Even if you left your Amex black card at home, it’s worth going to see the artfully designed window displays, which change seasonally and get more spectacular each year.
To get ‘the treatment’ (which can be good or bad depending on the size of your expense account), head to Madison and 72nd, gateway to the bejeweled storefronts of the Upper East Side. The main shopping is on, and just off, Madison Ave, from Midtown up to about E 75th St. You’ll also find attractive one-of-a-kind boutiques, mainly on Lexington and Third Aves in the 70s and 80s, as well as gourmet food shops. For unique gifts, hit the museum shops, including those at the Met, the Whitney, the Jewish Museum and the Neue Galerie.
On another galaxy is Bedford Ave (between N 4th and N 10th Sts) – and N 6th St for that matter – with alternative fashions, record stores and lots of flashy-trashy stuff. Williamsburg is famed (and scorned) for its hipster attire, required wearing by nearly everyone in the ’burg. Pick up the uniform at vintage shops, thrift stores and trendier boutiques on and around Bedford Ave.
Boerum Hill & Park Slope
For more Brooklyn fun, also cruise the shops of Boerum Hill’s Smith St and Park Slope’s Fifth Ave from St Marks Pl to 5th St. Atlantic Ave, running east–west near Brooklyn Heights, is sprinkled with antique stores, restaurants and boutiques, plus Arabic perfumeries, butchers and bookshops near Fourth Ave; heading south from Atlantic, both Court and especially Smith Sts are lined with local designers’ boutiques. Residential Park Slope, just west of Prospect Park, has a good selection of laidback clothing shops and bookstores along Fifth Ave (Lower East Side hip) and Seventh Ave (slightly more Upper West Side).