Best prices may be found off the beaten path

Dec 12, 2004

Best prices may be found off beaten path
Newsday, December 12, 2004
For a lot of people, holiday shopping means a mad dash to the mall, where they grab the first baubles they see, rush to the register and pray the store offers gift wrapping.

But for those who actually enjoy the search -- no, the quest -- for a special gift that's also a good bargain, there's a whole world of little-known emporia that traffic in high-quality products at sometimes unbelievable prices.

Some of these places -- factory outlets, sample sales, and wholesalers who make a side business of catering to ordinary folk -- require treks into the bowels of industrial Queens or Long Island. Others are easier to find but operate without advertising budgets and mostly through word-of-mouth.

Take the ground-floor space at 260 Fifth Ave. The nondescript storefront is the site of an ever-changing sample sale, thanks to the ingenuity of Yochai Azani, an Israeli who has found a way to get top designers' unsold merchandise out of warehouses and offer it to the bargain-savvy masses.

"Designers never pay attention to the past," Azani said. "They only pay attention to the future." As a result, they often let canceled orders and off-season returns languish in storage facilities.

Azani takes the clothes off their hands and sells them at a discount. So a coat from Moncler, the exclusive French brand, might be marked down from $900 to $500. For these labels, that's a bargain.

Same goes for the beautiful leather products at Graphic Image, a Melville manufacturer that supplies high-end department stores with photo albums, journals and accessories. If you're on a budget but you want to look like you've spent big bucks on holiday gifts, you'll find what you need at the small shop adjacent to the Graphic Image factory.

"We've got devoted fans who come and spend hundreds of dollars here and get all their presents," said Tom Glazer, who owns and runs the company with his sister Carol O'Connell.

So where, exactly, are these places? Below are a few off-the-beaten-path secrets on Long Island and in New York City where shoppers can find unusual gifts, for well below retail prices in most cases. And, along with the unique gifts, you'll be able to enjoy the sense of serendipity and adventure that comes with avoiding the well-worn path to the mall.

If these only whet your appetite for bargains, there are a couple of resources out there for getting the inside scoop on sample sales and outlets. Sign up at topbutton.com for weekly e-mails of New York area sample sales. The site dailycandy .com also has a pretty comprehensive list. Factory outlets and wholesalers are harder to track down; the Web site outletbound.com offers lists of freestanding outlets not outlet centers) by state.

Graphic Image 305 Spagnoli Rd. Melville, NY 11747 Phone: 631-249-9600 Hours: Monday-Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. through Dec. 23.

A true factory outlet. You can pay top dollar for Graphic Image's products -- leather- and fabric-bound journals, calendars and photo albums -- at Barneys New York, Bergdorf Goodman and Marc Jacobs, or you can head to this comfortable store right off Route 110 and save 25 percent to 75 percent on those same items. The outlet store, which is attached to the factory where all the products are bound and embossed, sells samples, seconds and off-season merchandise. Many items, including a whole line of baby-related products in white and pastel leathers, have no defects at all. A small leather-bound photo album sells for $80 at retail; at the outlet, it's $25. The company will personalize any outlet-store purchase with monograms.

K&G Clothing Warehouse 140 Smith St. Farmingdale, NY 11735 Phone: 631-420-9022 Hours: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., seven days.

This no-frills store offers known and unknown clothing brands (Jones New York and Bill Blass were spotted recently) at a steep discount. While there's a decent selection of women's apparel, including racks of suits, the buzz is men's clothes. About 65 percent of the store is given over to men's suits and coats.

Morty the Knife Man 80 Smith St. Farmingdale, NY 11735 Phone: 631-249-2072 Hours: Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. (only open Sundays through the holidays).

This shop in the Route 110 industrial corridor is primarily a knife-sharpening outfit -- chefs have sent knives here from as far away as California and Oregon -- but there's a small store that sells top-quality knives from brands such as Wusthof, Kershaw Shun Classic and Global, as well as a small selection of well-chosen kitchen items. Look, in particular, for the bamboo ginger grater ($5.50) and the line of exquisite utensils from Rosle, a German manufacturer. The ice cream scoop ($19.00) is a work of art.

Miss Chocolate 300 Spagnoli Rd. Melville, NY 11747 Phone: 631-777-2400 Hours: 9 a.m,-5 p.m., Monday-Friday; Saturday, 9 a.m.-3 p.m.

Miss Chocolate distributes toys, novelties, party items and, of course, chocolate. The outlet store is a small cornucopia of cheap and unusual items. Rolls of wrapping paper sell for $1, while scented candles go for 75 cents to $1.25. Decorative tins filled with fudge and cookies are $2.50 each, as are tins of Barton's Almond Kisses. This store is good if you need party favors, inexpensive office gifts and stocking stuffers.

260 Fifth Avenue 260 Fifth Ave. New York, NY 10001 Phone: 212-725-5400 Hours: vary depending on the sale. The store is sometimes closed on Mondays for set-up.

There's no name on this non-descript storefront, just some hand-painted signs in the window spelling out "SAMPLE SALE" in big block letters. But step inside and you can pretend you've entered the rarified salons of Bergdorf Goodman. The space hosts sample sales for some of the world's best brand names -- Calvin Klein, John Varvatos and La Perla, to name a few. Just last week, women waited on lines to lay their hands on the sexy Diane von Furstenberg dresses, skirts and sweaters offered at the designer's biannual sample sale. (Those famous wrap dresses, selling for around $300 in stores, go for $125 at the sample sale. Immodesty and decent lingerie help; there are no private dressing rooms, and some women just strip in the aisles to avoid the line to the communal dressing room.) Some sales, such as that one, last only a few days, while other merchandise stays in the store for a few weeks. You never quite know what you'll find if you happen by on a weekday afternoon.

Chambers Outlet Store 1451 Second Ave. New York, NY 10021 Phone: 212-396-2463 Hours: Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.to 9 p.m., Saturday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., Sunday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

This factory store, rather bizarrely located on the Upper East Side, stocks sheets and bath products from Chambers, the catalog company that was launched by Williams-Sonoma in 1989. (The Chambers products were recently folded into Williams-Sonoma's new home furnishings catalog.) The linens are high-quality, and the deals are good: fluffy bath sheets for $27.99, a wool-silk-cashmere throw for $135 (regularly $275) and milk-and-honey bath salts discounted from $16 to $6. There's also a small selection of Frette products, the hyper-expensive Italian linens found in New York's finest hotels and homes. Two standard Frette pillowcases are $50, down from $90.

Peter Elliot outlet 1067 Madison Ave. New York, NY 10028 Phone: 212-570-5747 Hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.

If your family members like to dress on the conservative side, this outlet might be the place for your Christmas shopping. The outlet store is just two doors down from the Peter Elliot women's store and across the street from the men's version. At the outlet, you can find $65 women's fleece jackets and men's shirts from $50 to $95. That's a pretty hefty discount compared with the full-price togs across the street, where men's button-down shirts run from $195 to north of $400.

Sapori d'Ischia 55-15 37th Ave. Woodside, NY 11377 Phone: 718-446-1500 Hours: Monday-Sunday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Half the fun is coming upon this store-cum-restaurant in a bleak industrial section in Woodside. Tucked into the back of the cozy restaurant, this shop sells imported and local Italian products at low prices. Fresh mozzarella is a bargain at $4.29 a pound, but, if you're looking for gifts with more shelf life, check out the range of balsamic vinegars ($5 to $32), flavored Italian syrups (such as lemon, caramel and mint, $6.95), marzipan fruits ($5) and the dizzying range of pastas, some available in whole wheat and organic varieties.

Paramount Caviar 38-15 24th St. Long Island City, NY 11101 www.paramountcaviar.com Phone: 718-786-7747 Hours: Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., or call to make an appointment for weekends.

Owned by Amy and Hossein Aimani, this wholesaler imports fine caviar from Iran and other countries, then sells it to top New York spots like Le Bernardin and the Four Seasons Hotel. But the Aimanis are also happy to share their expertise and their products with the rest of us.

They sell caviar out of their Long Island City warehouse, but, to get the most bang for your buck, ask Amy Aimani to put together a gift basket that might include, say, a couple of ounces of Iranian osetra, plus blinis, crème fraîche and smoked fish. She's done baskets ranging from $50 to $2,000 -- that one was "the grandest of gifts," she said. The company also does a healthy business in corporate gift baskets. The bargains are only modest -- the price of caviar has nearly doubled in the last year, hit by low supply and a weak dollar. But the Aimanis can help buyers choose the perfect gift. "We encourage people to see and taste the caviar here. They should be happy with their bag of treats," he said