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The Times Shopper: New York

Orchard Street on Lower East Side Offers a Variety of Bargains

July 12, 1987|JENNIFER MERIN | Merin is a New York City free-lance writer

NEW YORK — Orchard Street is New York City's mecca for bargain hunters.

Lined with little shops, this narrow street is the heart of New York's colorful Lower East Side, a collection of neighborhoods where waves of immigrants (Chinese, Italians, Ukranians, Latin Americans and Jews from other nations) settled after arriving in the United States.

Orchard Street has always been the area's retail center. During the mid-1800s, large, fashionable department stores, including Lord & Taylor, had their elegant headquarters here.

When these stores moved uptown, smaller shops--without fancy decor and frills--replaced them.

Orchard Street was dressed with a collection of fine tailor shops, mostly manned by Jewish immigrants. Gradually, other vendors, including those who operated from pushcarts, rounded out the selection of goods to include ready-to-wear clothing, accessories and other dry goods.

No-Frills Shopping

Orchard Street and its cross streets (Grand, Rivington, Stanton and Delancey, bounded by Canal and Houston) have about 300 shops. Many are no bigger than a hole in the wall, and are unappealing from the outside. Other shop fronts may have been spruced up with high-tech touches, but Orchard Street shopping is basically no-frills.

Merchandise is stacked on shelves, crammed onto racks, hung from the ceiling and spilling out into the street. Bargaining is not standard procedure, but some vendors will initiate price negotiations if you say you like something but can't afford it. It's definitely worth a try.

Crowds of bargain hunters flock to Orchard Street on Sundays, when all the stores are open and the street is closed to automobile traffic. Many shops (particularly those owned by Jewish merchants) are closed on Saturdays; some are also closed on Friday afternoons.

Lines of customers form on the streets, waiting to get into popular shops. Discounted prices make it all worthwhile. Don't hesitate to wander into a shop for a quick reconnaissance, even if the storefront is unprepossessing or the storekeeper (who may be hawking his wares outside) seems a bit brusk.

Some of the Best

Shopping Orchard Street usually yields a crop of fabulous bargains. Here are some of the street's best shops:

At R. C. Sultan Ltd. (No. 55) you'll find fabulous men's and women's hosiery. Socks and stockings of all colors and styles peek out from plastic bags that are spilling off shelves and out of bins. Women's brands include Hanes and Perry Ellis, discounted to $2 a pair and up.

Men's styles are by Henry Grethel, Christian Dior, Pierre Cardin and other leading designers. These and top label underwear sell for about 20% less than list. The store keeps some close-outs and specials hidden away for special customers. Asking salespeople about them may yield a treasure.

A. W. Kaufman (No. 73) specializes in lingerie. Three generations of the Kohn family have presided over floor-to-ceiling racks crammed with lovely, lacy nightgowns and peignoirs by Christian Dior and other top designers.

These are sold at about 40% less than uptown prices. Super comfortable Swiss cotton panties, teddies and other under things by Hanro sell for $6 and up. Cuddly cotton flannel nighties go for $29, terrific terry robes for $38 and luxurious silk pajamas for about $100.

If you don't find the lingerie you're looking for at A. W. Kaufman, head across the street to Louis Chock (No. 74), where there are nighties and undies galore. Chock's prices made the wading through plastic bags and elbowing through crowds worthwhile.

Imported Footwear

Emporio (No. 88) has fabulous, trendy men's Italian imported footwear. Leather or canvas loafers, oxfords and other styles, in standard or wildly unusual colors, are $50 to $100. There are also some men's chic casual clothes.

At No. 97, Carry On Luggage offers a wide range of carrying bags you might need to transport all your purchases home. There are other luggage shops on Orchard Street, but this one has the biggest selection and most reasonable prices on suitcases of various sizes, garment bags and other luggage.

Little Rascals (No. 101) offers imported children's clothes (14 months to 14 years), including close-outs and odd lots from Italian and French labels. Prices are excellent, especially on charming classic styles that are sometimes hard to find at any price.

Little velvet dresses with lace collars sell for $45 and up, stylishly sturdy loden coats with braid trim are about $60. Lace knee socks cost about $6. The shoe department features Italian imports only, including loafers, boots and patent-leather Mary Janes for $50 and up.

Out-of-Season Items

Best bargains are out-of-season items sold at 50% off the shop's already discounted price. Buys are abundant at January and July clearance sales, offering 20% to 50% off ticketed prices.

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