The moment my friends and I landed in New York for a girls’ weekend, we headed for Chinatown on a mission for bargains in this legendary slice of the Big Apple. Canal Street did not disappoint as we emerged from the Orange Line greeted by the smell of soy-soaked garlic and the ever-so-subtle sounds of businesswomen pounding the pavement and advertising their wares.
“Coach? Gucci?” they whispered carefully through the air, clearly offering a deal so fabulous on authentic designer purses that they feared speaking too loudly.
Unable to resist a secret sale, we made eye contact with one such businesswoman and followed the Prada Piper to a semi-private meeting spot on a sidewalk under some scaffolding. No one offered us food or beverages while we waited, obviously a cost-saving feature that made these low, low prices possible.
Without a word (or a smile) her younger colleague carefully unfolded a laminated poster covered with photos of designer bags.
“You look at this,” our personal shopper explained with all the charm of a wild Rottweiler, “we’ll get your purse.” Cutting customer service training had to have saved them a bundle.
We perused the foldout catalogue overwhelmed by the choices. And by the apparent time limit.
“Which one?” the boss lady demanded.
“Can we go to your store to see them?” we asked.
“NO!” she hissed, “PICK FROM THE PICTURE!”
She clearly did not understand a woman’s relationship with her handbag. We would no more commit to a purse after scanning a picture-plastered poster on the street for 12 seconds than we would a family dog, as both must feel good in our arms, so we walked away.
But our infomercial-trained saleswoman would not have that.
“OK, OK,” she said, shuffling down the street after us. “I’ll take you to see them. Follow me.”
Like sheep in search of an amazing bargain to brag about to friends back home, we followed. Up the street, across the street, around a corner, to and from the same storefront twice, 15 feet behind our handbag specialist-slash-captor talking furiously into her phone. We began to question her legitimacy.
“Did we just make our fourth left turn?” my friend Jill asked as we passed by the same dried mushroom barrel for the second time.
The woman glanced back one more time before turning onto an empty street. No cars. No people. No storefronts.
I have seen enough Jason Bourne movies and had browsed enough shops in Chinatown at this point to know this could only end one of two ways. Not wanting to wind up at the bottom of the Hudson River or loaded down with crap I was pressured into buying, I did exactly what Jason would do and whisked my friends back around the corner, across the street and into a restaurant where we would hide until it was safe to emerge.
Thirty minutes later we were in a cab headed back uptown where, sadly, no bargain bags would be found, but happy our ending did not befall us in Chinatown.