‘You Can’t Go Wrong with Cashmere’

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A shopper passes a mannequin in Express on Fifth Avenue. Many polled shoppers said they will be looking for ways to save even more money than usual on Black Friday this year. Photo: Carly MacLeod.

Black Friday: the day when many shoppers stay at home rather than braving the crowds in order to find good deals.  Columbus Circle, Ladies’ Mile and Herald Square are no exceptions.  In fact, many holiday shoppers this year aren’t even buying presents.  According to the National Retail Federation, holiday sales this year will only increase by an estimated 2.8 percent, a stark contrast to the 5.2 percent increase last year.  According to the NRF, though, it’s still higher than the grim trend of the past decade; over that period,  sales’ yearly increases averaged a measly 2.6 percent.

Mary Farhat, a mother of one who came to Columbus Circle to shop, was just one of many who are cutting back on the holiday season.  “I’m not buying anything,” she said.  “I just quit my job.”  Farhat had worked for a gallery in Dubai.  Instead of buying presents, she said, “I’m just spending the time with family and enjoying all of the city decorations.”  With stroller in tow, she then entered the Columbus Circle shopping mall in order to browse the stores.

“No, I don’t plan on shopping … and if I did, I’d probably just get something for myself,” said Shana Weber, who said if she did shop, she’d be targeting major department stores such as Nordstrom’s.  She was browsing Ann Taylor Loft on the Fifth Avenue stretch of Ladies’ Mile with sweaters over her arm.

Jeff McGill, a 24-year-old Navy electrician’s mate from San Diego, also plans to cut back on Black Friday. Sure, he wants to save money, but he also “hates shopping.” Plus, his boyfriend does most of the shopping for him while he watches football.

Some people are giving gifts.  However, they’ve decided to tread the more conscientious route.  Colleen Barry, another woman at Columbus Circle who works for Random House, said that instead of buying gifts this year, she’s planning on knitting a total of 10 scarves.  “People really appreciate it,” she said. “It’s useful, and it’s fun to play with yarn.”

Maria Estebán, a 50-year-old housekeeper who lives in Harlem, also plans to be frugal on Black Friday—although she won’t be making her own clothes. She plans on buying new shoes for her three sons at Macy’s; they’ve needed them for a while, but she wanted to wait for the sales.

Others are hoping to support the domestic economy by buying local. Sian Kirin lives in Park Slope, and said that all of her Christmas gifts will come from Brooklyn artisans: “I prefer smaller companies, and I go local to keep them open. When I was in Hong Kong, I’d buy Chinese products, and when I lived in Australia, I’d buy Australian.”

Many others who are giving gifts this year, though, are giving gifts to themselves.  In a survey conducted by the National Retail Federation, nearly six in 10 holiday shoppers planned to take advantage of discounts to make non-gift purchases for themselves.

Joseph O’Malley, a resident of Brooklyn and one of many people at Columbus Circle, said that he plans to buy a German shepherd as a present for himself this holiday season.  He already plans to name the dog “Pine Cone.”

“I don’t plan to buy from a pet store or a breeder,” O’Malley said.  “I don’t have enough money.”  Instead, he plans to look on craigslist to track down a dog.

Shoppers on Ladies’ Mile agreed when it came to “self” gift giving. “The first thing I’m getting is for myself!” proclaimed Harry DeBastien. “Definitely, getting myself a cashmere sweater – you can’t go wrong with cashmere.”

While O’Malley wants a dog and DeBastien wants cashmere, Raquel Martinez wants a laptop.  A college student at Hunter College, she’s planning to take advantage of the deals on Black Friday. “I’m thinking of getting the notebook since the regular laptops are too big,” Martinez said.  “I’ll save my money to buy metro cards instead.”

Sarah Goldstein, a 22-year-old New York University student, said that she will “most definitely” be shopping for herself on Black Friday (and maybe even her boyfriend, “if he promises to buy [her] jewelry first.”) She plans on going straight to the shoes section, although she is not sure where yet. (“Probably somewhere on Fifth Avenue.”)

The last “good” year for holiday shopping was in 2007, where the total average money spent on holiday gifts was $755.13 per person.  Since then, it’s dropped steadily to a low $681.83 in 2009 before rising slightly in 2010.  This year, it’s estimated that shoppers will spend about $704.18 each.