NEW YORK — The limousine stopped in front of a linens emporium and two well-dressed women, one young, one middle-aged, stepped into the shop.
Two hours and a few thousand dollars later, they had ordered sets of monogrammed sheets and towels, bedroom ensembles, custom made shower curtains and elegant table linens for the lucky bride. Although they bought the finest and the latest, they paid 30% less then the price in their local department store. They used a credit card, and had their purchases sent home via UPS.
Where is this shopping miracle to be found?
Come down to the Lower East Side one Sunday morning, and see the mean streets fill up with crowds that include prosperous suburbanites, U.N. diplomats, tourists and Park Avenue matrons. They shop for current designer fashions, upscale tableware, appliances, fabrics, linens and a great deal more at discount prices.
Not everyone spends thousands. People make the trip downtown for a good pair of shoes, a toaster, some shirts--the savings add up quickly.
This was once what Madison Avenue is today: New York's most elegant shopping area. Lord and Taylor was on the corner of Grand and Forsythe streets, and there were other posh department stores nearby.
Later, the gentry moved uptown and new immigrants sailed past the Statue of Liberty and came here to live in tenements and work in sweatshops, eventually to prosper and to move away. Many Americans have roots in these tenements.
The Lower East Side Tenement Museum, 97 Orchard St., preserves the experience of immigrant life, and a grim life it was. There are photographic exhibits and on Sunday, walking tours, audio-visual presentations and a children's program. Stop in or call for program information: (212) 431-0233.
Today, not much is left of this community, except a few shopping streets. The stores may look as they did then, but the merchandise and the customers have changed. Sophisticated shoppers come for quality bargains, because one thing has not changed: prices are at least 20% below retail, often lower.
Most shops observe the Jewish Sabbath: They close early on Friday and remain closed Saturday and on all Jewish holy days. Sunday is the busiest day of the week, when upper Orchard Street becomes a pedestrian mall where large crowds stroll and shop. Let's join them.
Come down on the Second Avenue bus and get off at the corner of East Houston and Forsyth streets, and you are on Gourmet Row, Lower East Side version.
Jonah Schimmel, 137 E. Houston St., is famous for handmade knishes. One knish makes a nice cheap lunch, perhaps with a cup of borscht or a glass of homemade yogurt. For dessert there is apple strudel, and the coffee is good. Everything can be eaten here or taken out, and everything is inexpensive.
A much more upscale establishment is Russ and Daughters, 179 E. Houston St. The smoked salmon from the Gaspe, the sturgeon, the Black Sea caviar and the varieties of herring are unsurpassed in quality but since overhead is low, the prices are among the best in the city. The late James Beard was a regular customer here. Open seven days a week.
Continue walking east, turn right on Orchard Street and you are on the area's main street for fashion shopping.
Stroll along and window shop; there are many great stores to discover. Most take credit cards and ship via UPS.
Here is a small sampling of shops. You will find many others on your own.
Friedlich Inc., 196 Orchard St., has high-fashion women's sportswear, coats and raincoats discounted 40% to 60%. You might find a lined wool gabardine skirt here for $30, or a coat by Bill Blass, Anne Klein or Dior at half-price. In the basement, everything has a famous label, such as Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein or Donna Karan, and everything is sharply discounted.
Shulie's, 175 Orchard St., sells fashions by Tahari at half price and it is rumored that the owner is designer Tahari's sister.
Bettinger Luggage, 80 Rivington St., is crammed full of suitcases, trunks, attache cases and other luggage, all the best brands, sold at very good discounts. They also repair luggage.
Giselle, 143 Orchard St., is a vertical women's boutique where you will climb a lot of stairs and be rewarded with the newest designer fashions assembled with taste. Expect discounts of 25%, but during the twice yearly sales in January and July, everything is reduced to half price.
At S. Sosinsky & Son, 143 Orchard St., Arrow shirts cost a third of the suggested retail price and $l50 velour robes in unisex styles cost $42. Sosinsky also carries shirts with designer labels, men's sweaters and pajamas at equally astounding prices. These are "irregulars" but without serious flaws, only small cosmetic ones.
Fein and Klein, 119 Orchard St., is a very upscale handbag shop with an impressive selection of designer labels. The sales staff will keep on bringing out bags until you find exactly what you want. Discounts are 20% or more.
Upstairs in the same store is Lea's, a shop with fashions for women who dress for success.