Shopping in New York City is a sport in itself. Just as with most other things for the visitor, everything is concentrated into the southern two-thirds of Manhattan. It helps to understand that Manhattan is basically the “main street” for the entire region of almost 20 million people. Only 1.5 million of those people actually live in Manhattan, but most of the rest do at least some of their yearly shopping on the crowded island, and millions of tourists each year join in the fun.
There are small shops selling almost everything imaginable spread out all over Manhattan, but a few famous places stand out and deserve to be mentioned on their own. And in spite of the crazy hotel prices, there are actually cheap clothes stores in New York.
Macy’s — Their Herald Square flagship store at 34th Street and Broadway bills itself as the “world’s largest store,” and the claim seems to be undisputed for now. It sprawls over 6 massive floors, with a famous food department in the basement.
Bloomingdale’s — Their flagship store is at 59th Street and Lexington Avenue, just at the southern end of what is known as the Upper East Side. It’s not as big as Macy’s, obviously, but it’s a bit fancier and a huge favorite among veteran shoppers.
Century 21 — The flagship of this notorious budget chain is next to Ground Zero downtown. They are famous for their low prices on designer clothing and their surly service. The prices seem to be worth the brisk treatment shoppers receive because this store is always jammed with both locals and tourists.
FAO Schwarz — One of the world’s largest and most famous toy stores can be found at Fifth Avenue and 58th Street. Things are kept very traditional here so it’s worth a visit just to see the old school displays.
After you get past the hall of fame above, things tend to get much smaller. New York City shopping is mostly known for boutiques rather than huge stores like those above. Below are some key neighborhoods you should consider, depending on what you are after.
Notable shopping areas
Madison Avenue between 59th Street and 72nd Street on the Upper East Side — This area is very understated, but it’s lined with some of New York’s finest boutiques aimed squarely at the ultra rich folks who live in the area. It’s a fabulous place to window shop, regardless of your budget.
Fifth Avenue between 48th Street and 59th Street — Unlike Madison Avenue, this area is anything but understated. Tiffany’s flagship is on the bottom floor of the gaudy Trump Tower, and Sak’s 5th Avenue is here, along with Bergdorf Goodman, Barney’s, and posh outlets from every major European designer line.
9th and 10th Streets between 3rd Avenue and Avenue B — This East Village area has recently started filling up with some really striking and trendy clothes shops, and it’s particularly popular with Japanese visitors.
8th Street between 6th Avenue and Broadway — This Greenwich Village main street has been kind of stagnant lately, but it’s still lined with trendy clothing shops with generally affordable prices.
Broadway between Houston Street and Canal Street — This main drag through Soho has transformed in the past decade from a collection of unique and trendy shops to the new home of every upscale clothing chain imaginable. There are some other really interesting shops mixed in, and some unusual items being sold by sidewalk street vendors as well.
Spring and Prince Streets between Broadway and West Broadway in Soho — This entire section of this ritzy neighborhood is filled with interesting shops of all kinds. The lofts above the shops are loaded with film stars and other celebrities, so this is also prime ground for spotting famous faces.
Southstreet Seaport — This area is mainly filled with chain stores typically found in every mall in America, but the whole area is still really cool anyway. Especially in nice weather, this is a great place to stroll around whether you are in a shopping mood or not.