Never shop for Christmas in a bad mood. Christmas shopping is challenging enough even in the most cheery of moods, what with the crowds, the cold, the awful muzak, the expense. Throw a foul attitude into the mix, and the results are toxic.
I don’t exactly know why I was in a bad mood, not that it matters, but as I headed downtown on the A train yet again, I realized that I had the same grim expression as everyone else–a peculiarly New York ability to be totally vacant and inexpressive no matter what happens.
I was heading for the Christmas market at Columbus Circle and another at Union Square. I had seen them in the early stages of construction, and now I was ready to shop with a long list and a pocketful of $20s. Not enough of the latter for the length of the former, as it turned out.
I dove into the crowd. In these parts of New York at Christmas, there are always crowds. The first thing I noticed was that a lot of stalls had a lot of 1. jewelry, 2. hats, and 3. specialty soap. The second thing I noticed was that it was all expensive.
In the Midwest, a Christmas market (we would be more likely to call it an Art Fair) either has kitschy Grandma items like crocheted toilet paper covers in the likeness of dolls with big skirts or truly cool stuff made by homespun artisans. Either way, the goods are priced Midwestern. Once, in Texas, I bought several delicate, hand-crocheted doilies for $3 apiece. Making one of these is like knotting string–it takes a lot of knots and a lot of string to make a doily. I overheard the seller, who was crocheting like fury, say, “I can’t keep up. These are selling like hotcakes.”
No one in New York would make an entrepreneurial goof like that. So, few stalls were selling handmade stuff. And nothing was priced Midwestern.
I found out why from Inga, who had lovely small stall at the end of a row. She makes soap and other bodily delights. I asked her if the market was expensive to participate in. Her eyes widened. “Oh, yes. It’s very expensive. My husband said I’d better come out even or he’d kill me.” She stopped a minute. “He was just kidding,” she reassured me.
So I bought some soap and factored the cost of one saved relationship.
After trolling Columbus Circle, I headed to Union Square (A train to 42nd; N to 14th), hoping for a more authentic, midwestern-type experience.
Some stalls were unique to Union Square, but many were at both locations, like capitalism, holiday style. The market at Union Square seemed larger, but the food booths weren’t as abundant. (You had a smorgasbord of ethnic choices at Columbus Circle, if you had appropriate outerwear for a picnic in December.)
Again, I wandered aimlessly. Had I been more cheery, I might have noticed the lights; I might have enjoyed the crowds. I might have had a hot chocolate. As it was, I picked up some small stuff, hoping I was making a dent in my list. I felt the cold penetrating my limbs. I saw the going-out-of-business sale at Filene’s Basement, and I ditched the market.
Several overheated department stores later, I had exactly two more presents, and one was a pair of aqua socks.
Now, friends, I know there is good shopping in New York. C’mon, this place is all about the shopping. So gimme the skinny. Where can I find the good stuff (and I’m not talking about a $45 money clip, cool as it may be)?