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The Times Shopper

Big Apple Ripe for Sophisticated Bargain Hunts

August 24, 1986|JENNIFER MERIN | Merin is a New York City free-lance writer.

Off-price retailing has come of age in New York City. In the shadow of high finance in the Wall Street/World Trade Center area and next to the pricey and famous Fifth Avenue department stores are some of the city's best and most sophisticated bargain shops.

They offer top-quality merchandise at cut-rate prices. They're frequented by some of New York's wiliest shoppers. And the best of them--stores such as the Push Cart, Century 21, Odd Job Trading and others--are rapidly gaining national and international reputations.

An off-price retailer buys vast quantities of merchandise (most of it current, some of it irregular) at the cost of production, or slightly above it, from manufacturers under hardship conditions. For example, if a manufacturer has produced too many stuffed puppies or men's swim trunks or if the manufacturer was late in delivering stock to a retailer who refused to accept it, he may have to sell those puppies or trunks at cost just to recoup his investment.

Off-price retailers snap up this merchandise and sell it for well below suggested retail prices, so there are great bargains. The concept is nothing new, but recently off-price retailers seem to be tapping into higher quality merchandise and using sophisticated marketing techniques to attract customers from a broad economic spectrum.

Stock Changes Fast

If the prices are appealing to shoppers, so is the adventure. Many regular customers drop in daily, or weekly, to check the stock. It is likely to have changed almost entirely from one visit to the next. Any item is unlikely to remain on the selling floor for more than a month, if that long, so you're never sure of what you'll find.

The drawback is that you can't count on getting the items or brand you want. On the other hand, you might discover something you weren't thinking about or never expected to see, and at a price so low that it would be foolish not to buy it.

Off-price retailers are outlets for clothing, linens, china, crystal and a cornucopia of gift items. You can fill your list of gifts for the folks back home with top-quality items at a fraction of what one would suppose they cost. Your boss need never know that his solid brass Statue of Liberty cost only $4.59 or that her Chanel purse spray was a mere $7.59.

Odd Job Trading (three locations: 149 West 32nd St., 7 East 40th St., 66 West 48th St.) has gift items for adults and children, and for various occasions. The stock does change, but here are some examples:

A Replique gift set with cologne and dusting powder, originally $20, is selling for $4. A Rubik's Cube perpetual calendar puzzle, originally $8, is 69 cents. A Command Big Foot toy truck is reduced from $20 to $8. A set of four Mikasa fluted champagne glasses, retail value $40, is selling for $14. The Performer dual cassette player that allows you to record your voice with the stars usually sells for $80 but here it's $20.

Gifts, Practical Items

On the more practical side, a $9 package of computer paper is selling for $2.

The Push Cart (three locations: 412 Fifth Ave., 140 Church St., 80 Nassau St.) is one of the best known off-price stores. Merchandise is usually displayed on pushcart-like tables, arranged in aisles that are given the names of New York streets (Delancy, Allen, etc.). It's still difficult to find anything, and count on being jostled by the crowds trying to get up to the counters. (Watch your wallet. This is a pickpocket's paradise.)

Push Cart has a lot of items for the home. For example, a Black & Decker -inch drill sells for $15, a Proctor-Silex steam iron is $17 (about half the suggested retail price), bath towels are reduced from $16 to $7.

Gift items include Cadbury's English Biscuits for 69 cents, Ralph Lauren's Chaps cologne reduced from $15 to $2 and Baby Kickee dolls reduced from $54 to $10. There are also dozens of porcelain figurines and vases as well as assorted clothing.

Designer Labels

Century 21 (12 Cortland St.) has excellent buys in men's and women's clothing. Men's short-sleeved business shirts (Givenchy, Oscar de la Renta, Lapidus, John Weitz, Arrow and Henry Grethel labels) are $12 to $15. Ralph Lauren terry cloth robes for women are $60, and women's two-piece wool suits by Giorgio Sant'Angelo are $90.

Men's Fila bikini bathing suits are $5. The cosmetics section has big discounts on perfume, and the gift department is offering sets of four Cristal d'Arques 24% lead-content wine glasses and tumblers for $12 to $20. Handy clip-on fans in pastel colors are $12, and Lark and John Weitz luggage is selling for 50% of list price.

Nearby, Sym's (45 Park Place) has men's and women's clothing. Their motto is "a smart consumer is our best customer." If you know value, you'll know what great value you're getting in this store. Clothing and accessories are given dated price tags that have the original price and Sym's price (usually 33% to 50% less).

Further price reductions are automatically calculated when the garment remains on the selling floor for 10 days. And after another 10 days the price is cut again, until the final sale price is reached. With this policy in mind, some store regulars try to hide their choice of business suits, dresses or casual clothes on different racks or shelves, and the salespeople are always returning merchandise to its place. Sym's also has great buys in hose, socks and underwear.

Weber's (four locations: 136 Church St., 390 6th Ave., 505 8th Ave., 2064 Broadway) has clothes, gift items and practical items for the home. Beautifully embroidered sheets (queen size) are reduced from $65 to $25, Chams tank-top shirts are $4, Chams slacks $2, a set of three Chinese tea sets reduced from $20 to $5, Calvin Klein spray cologne in the $37 size sells for $20, Pavlova body lotion is reduced from $30 to $10, and, to carry it all home, a handsome Calvin Klein shoulder bag is $18.

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