It's easy to spot the Irish shoppers on a Monday afternoon at Macy's in Herald Square.
The Irish women are casual. They don’t strut, they stroll, and they seem almost at peace in the world’s largest department store.
On the second floor sifting through rails of decorative tops last week, I find a Cork mother and daughter who look like they are on a mission. As they take a brief respite from their retail therapy to chat with the Irish Voice, they tell me they have maintained their New York shopping pilgrimage for over a decade.
“We’re coming for the last 10 years,” Geraldine Ahern says as she looks at her daughter and smiles.
“We are out here this time for nine days,” she told the Irish Voice. “We just love the buzz.”
Despite Ireland’s economic downturn, the Cork mother says they normally bring the same amount of spending money each year. This year they have $3,000 each, and they both nod their heads in agreement that they won’t rest until their wallets are down to the lining.
“We spend 98 to 99 percent of it,” Geraldine admits.
On the wish list this year are jeans, shoes, cosmetics and clothes for the men back at home.
“We’ve done Woodbury Commons, Jersey Gardens, Fifth Avenue,” she reveals. “We’ve done everywhere really. The menswear here is just for nothing.”
Her daughter, Georgine, interjects, admitting she’s already hit up some of her favorite American stores.
“Abercrombie & Fitch, you cannot get it back at home,” she points out.
The savings, the ladies insist, are phenomenal. Holding three t-shirts, Georgine says she has already stocked up on all her favorite make-up brands and is delighted with her new Benefit eyeliner which cost her $20.
“At home it’s €36,” she revealed.
“It’s crazy,” says Geraldine, who adds that the attention sales people give here is a big plus.
“They dance attendance on you,” the mother laughs.
“They do everything for you, nothing is a problem. Back home you’re fighting the crowds. You go in and they just totally ignore you in the shops. I know they have targets to reach here, and they’re a lot more attentive.”
Upstairs in Macy's, Siobhan O’Sullivan looks content among the evening wear as she surveys the colors of the season.
“It’s a lot cheaper, but it’s very different from shopping at home,” O’Sullivan, who is on vacation with her boyfriend, told the Irish Voice.
With her male companion nowhere in sight, she reveals they have already hit the jewelry section downstairs. But first they stopped off at the visitor section of the department store to pick up their 10% discount visitor card.
“I wanted a piece of jewelry, a locket, as a birthday present,” said O’Sullivan, adding that her boyfriend prefers to shop in the U.S.
“He likes shopping in America more so than at home. He doesn’t shop much at home, then he comes over here and spends a good bit and doesn’t shop again.”
In an unusual serene section of knitwear on the fourth floor, I spot three ladies already clutching Macy's shopping bags.
Joan and Marie Liston and Mary O’Callaghan say that although shopping was not the only reason for their week-long visit to New York, it was an important element.
The two sisters and a daughter from Limerick told the Irish Voice they have found especially good value in jeans and shoes.
“The shopping has been fantastic,” Mary said.
When Irish women wheel their empty suitcases into John Fitzpatrick’s hotels in Manhattan around this time of year, he knows they are on a shopping mission.
“It’s beginning,” says the CEO of the Fitzpatrick Hotel Group, North America, referring to the annual tide of Irish shoppers who flock to New York for the pre-holiday season.
“I met a few of them last Friday. A lady said she bought a pair of UGGs for $87 and she told me they are €250 back home.”
Throughout the boom years the two Fitzpatrick hotels in New York were a common stomping ground for Irish shoppers, but the hotelier considers those extravagant times a things of the past.
“It will never be like it was at the height of it. I don’t think we will ever have that rush that happened in the Celtic tiger,” he told the Irish Voice.
Despite Ireland’s economic woes, Fitzpatrick says Irish shoppers are eager to get value for money, and there are few better places to find it than the Big Apple.
“I find a lot of people are buying more so for the kids. People may have to cut back but still have to buy presents,” Fitzpatrick points out. “It's all about saving and re-energizing.”
With his hotel capacity up 17% on December of last year, Fitzpatrick admits he is always delighted to see the Irish shoppers arriving.
Fitzpatrick says his staff has a tedious job cleaning out the hotel rooms after the shoppers depart, with rooms filled with empty shopping bags, shoe boxes and other evidence of their retail blitz.
“Our garbage disposal company has to take an extra delivery,” he laughs.
Despite an estimated drop in numbers, Tour America operators in Dublin point out that New York still draws the shopping crowd.
“In the run up to Christmas, New York continues to be the most popular as customers love the range of shopping outlets available and the great prices for designer brands,” Polly Bond, head of product and marketing with Tour America, told the Irish Voice.
A 30-year-old teacher living in Dublin, Líosa Breatnach, said she could not help but notice how many Irish shoppers were on her flight on the way over to New York.
“There were definitely other shoppers on the plane; in fact, I had two colleagues on the same flight as me to do just that -- shopping!” she told the Irish Voice.
“Also, there was no luggage in the overhead bins on the way over and from speaking to other passengers they had one suitcase in another suitcase.
“But on the return flight the overhead bins were jam-packed!” reveals the Dubliner, who visited New York last week.
Spending almost $1,500, Breatnach said that she found her dollar went a lot further in New York.
“I definitely found better value on brands that are popular in Ireland like Nike, Ugg, Hollister, American Eagle, and Abercrombie & Fitch,” she said.
“I think New York is so popular because it's not as expensive as it used to be to fly over. We are a very brand conscious society and so New York offers all those popular designers at relatively affordable prices
“The fact is Irish people like to shop and it's the nearest city across the pond!”