Navigating China Town

· Jul 18, 2001 Tweet

It’s no lie that most everything in New York City’s China Town can be considered junk. The watches usually stop keeping time after a couple of weeks, and the stereo speakers probably never worked in the first place. But, for the dedicated cheap merchandise seeker, China Town can become a very valuable shopping destination.

The heart of China Town shopping is located along a mile of Canal Street in downtown Manhattan. Bargain shoppers can find street vendors selling everything from jade elephants to Chinese laundry shoes. The majority of the merchandise is five dollars, but can range up to anywhere from 60 to 70 dollars, depending on the item.

My friends and I can regularly be seen weaving through the crowded, unkempt streets searching for knock-off merchandise, while enduring the smell of bad body odor and raw, decomposing fish. After spending two summers in the city I have become quite the connoisseur of China Town shopping.

One of the first rules to shopping in China Town is to never purchase a VHS video for five dollars. Try not to be persuaded by the fact that the five-dollar videotapes are movies that were released yesterday. These peddling salesmen have been known to sneak themselves and their 39.99 video camera in the back of movie theaters and record the newly released film. Please, let’s all learn the basic rule that says you get what you pay for. If what you’re looking for is a poorly made, 5th generation, hand-held recording of the movie with in-house commentary and popcorn chewing slobs right in the midst of your viewing, then you have struck gold!

Right next to the videos are usually rows of the latest mainstream CD’s. After hearing what the movies were like, I assumed the CD’s would be even worse. So I was surprised to hear a few friends were impressed with the quality of their five-dollar CD’s. I think it is a process of trial and error. But buying a few badly recorded CD’s can be a little rough on the wallet.

Fake handbags, sunglasses and watches are a few of my favorite items on Canal Street. But before making a purchase for five or ten dollars; it is wise to check out the real thing on Fifth Avenue. If you really want to find something that looks authentic take a look at the exact details of a real Gucci purse or a real Rolex watch. Where is the logo? What does it look like? What kind of stitching is used? After doing some research it is easier to make a final decision in China Town. I have also noticed the smaller shops with less merchandise are usually more authentic.

Most bargain shoppers are willing to negotiate with vendors for a lower price. For some reason, I have not found it easy to negotiate in China Town. Either the measly price of five dollars is good enough for me, or I am just not aggressive enough. I have noticed people having more luck negotiating with the less experienced vendors in Time Square and on Fifth Avenue. These vendors have less merchandise and are more interested in a quick dollar. The only time I have found negotiating to be successful is around 7 p.m. when China Town vendors are closing for the day. The trick is to walk away after they suggest a price, but casually look back like you are still interested. Your best bet is probably only two or three dollars cheaper.

The final rule is to remember not to get too excited. A Rolex for every day of the week may start to look a little tacky!


This article was published Jul 18, 2001 at 12:00 am and last updated Jul 18, 2001 at 12:00 am


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