Off the beaten path: Unique NYC holiday shops
In addition to seeing the Rockefeller Center tree and decorated windows, many December visitors come to shop. Naturally chain retailers, especially the Manhattan flagships for stores like Macy's, are a big draw. But New York is also full of one-of-a-kind shops and ethnic neighborhoods where you can find unique merchandise in all price ranges.
New York City is home to several Christmas markets as well, selling everything from mittens to ornaments to arts and crafts and toys. Check out the Holiday Market in the red-and-white candy-striped tents at Union Square (East 14th Street); the Holiday Shops at Bryant Park (42nd Street and Fifth Avenue), where you'll also find a shimmering Christmas tree and a rink with free ice skating; and the 74 vendors at Grand Central Terminal's Holiday Gift Fair. Grand Central hosts its free annual "Kaleidoscope Light Show," Dec. 1 through New Year's Day, themed this year on a train ride through a snowy forest filled with carousels and magical creatures.
Be sure to include stores with international themes on your shopping tour. Takashimaya, the famous Japanese department store, has a Manhattan location at 693 Fifth Ave. (54th Street) so beautifully decorated that the displays could be in a museum.
In Soho, you'll find The Evolution Store, 120 Spring St., which sells gifts for budding Darwins and other natural history types: replica skulls and skeletons, anatomical models, posters, colorful mounted butterflies, scorpion paperweights and even flavored lollipops with genuine crickets inside. Another favorite place in Soho is the Young Designers Market, 268 Mulberry St., between Prince and Houston, open weekends.
Temporary "pop-up" stores are not unusual during the Christmas shopping season, but one at 680 Fifth Ave. (open through Jan. 4 near Takashimaya) is the first of its kind: a store selling the RED-branded designer merchandise that benefits African AIDS programs. The sometimes hard-to-find RED products include Converse sneakers created by artists around the world as well as other limited edition items from Armani, the Gap, Apple, Dell, Hallmark and others.
Finally, don't forget the city's specialty bookstores, including Drama Book Shop in the theater district, 250 W. 40th St. And the new Idlewild Books, 12 W. 19th St., which sells guidebooks, novels and other literature about places around the world, along with maps, globes and custom-made destination kits. Idlewild was the original name for Kennedy Airport.
For more detailed shopping guidance, check out Suzy Gershman's "Born To Shop New York". Recommendations include chocolates from La Maison du Chocolat, Madison Avenue near 78th Street and a visit to Bergdorf Goodman, Fifth Avenue and 57th Street, which Gershman rates as one of the best department stores in the world.
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