IT’S that time of the year again, when Irish couples, friends and families descend upon New York in their droves for what one woman recently told the Irish Voice is a shopping spree in "Bargain Apple."
Despite the devastating recession in a country that has made international headlines for the financial mess it finds itself in, some Irish people are still finding extra change in their pockets to make a trip to New York for their holiday shopping.
Standing amidst Ralph Lauren shirts and trousers in Macy’s in Herald Square on West 34th Street on a recent Friday were two burly men from Co. Monaghan who were laden down with suitcases and shopping bags.
Deep in conversation, presumably about man related stuff, Peter Drummey and Jason Knightly flushed with embarrassment when the Irish Voice made note of their bulging bags on Friday, November 13.
"Do you really think we could possibly buy all this stuff between us?" said Drummey half defensively.
The two friends were waiting on their wives, who had apparently given them strict instructions "not to budge from that spot" until their return.
Knightly admitted they agreed to watch their wives’ bags as a trade off for a "day free of shopping on Saturday."
"Tomorrow is our day and we plan to go to an Irish bar, watch the Liverpool game and have a few pints," said Knightly, excited with anticipation.
Drummey, a part-time musical director with a local theater in Co. Monaghan, and Knightly, a mechanical engineering teacher, accompany their wives to New York every year. Despite the cutbacks their paychecks have taken they were still determined "not to let the girls down" this year.
Knightly said sacrifices had to be made this year so they could "afford" their annual trip.
"We usually come to New York for a week but this year, mainly because of the price of hotels, we are only here for four days," explained Knightly.
"We also skipped a friend’s wedding in Spain in September so we could pay for this trip."
Drummey, who also purposely missed out on the wedding as well, admitted he and his wife don't "plan to spend" as much this year as previous years.
"Our budget is usually about $3,000 but we've cut that down to $2,000 because we just don't have it this year," he said.
Although not divulging how much money he makes a week, Drummey said his take home pay is considerably lower than it was this time last year, forcing the cuts.
"To be honest, if it wasn't for Sally's good job (his wife works as a therapist) we probably wouldn't be here," he admitted.
The friends, who have known each other for over 10 years, had no idea what their wives had purchased, but knew they weren't done.
"All I know is they keep saying, ‘This is such a bargain, I can't leave it behind,' so when I hear those words I just switch off, hand over the wallet and keep the head down," laughs Knightly.
PEERING at sparkling jewelry was Co. Donegal native Sarah Coll. Coll, a foster mom of two, was in New York to celebrate her 50th birthday.
The birthday girl was joined by her sister-in-law Madge McFadden and her two daughters, Noreen and Agnes.
"I turned 50 this year so we all decided to come to New York to celebrate," Coll told the Irish Voice, while joking that she didn't have any lipstick on for a picture.
Coming to New York is a rare occurrence for Coll. Her last visit was seven years ago and she never envisioned herself back again.
"I was over the moon when the girls organized the trip," said Coll, while eyeing up a bracelet.
Coll admitted the only way she could afford to come back to the Big Apple was because she had dollars tucked away for a number of years.
"My husband and I were supposed to go to San Francisco five years ago but it fell through so I kept all the dollars from then, so that's my spending money," she said.
As for Noreen, an engineer with Donegal County Council, and Agnes, a student, they planned to shop till they dropped.
"We saved for this a long time," admits Agnes, who once lived in New York and hadn't been back since.
The Colls isters were on a mission to buy as much designer labels as possible.
"I just put away a Guess bag and wallet that's $180. At home you’d pay about 200 sterling for the bag alone," said Noreen.
Agnes, nodding her head in agreement, said she would be making a stop at the Tommy Hilfiger section of the store to purchase her designer labels too.
“Again, the price of Tommy Hilfiger here is so much cheaper than home, so that’s where we are heading next,” she said.
Coll and McFadden, although they had a list of presents they planned to purchase, was also looking forward to doing some sightseeing during their five-day vacation.
"We're also going up to Woodlawn (in the Bronx) to visit friends," said Coll.
HONEYMOONERS Andrea Sheehan and Paul O’Shea from Co. Cork were doing the laps of Macy’s on Friday.
They had just completed a Caribbean cruise and a few days in Las Vegas and were spending the remaining four days of their honeymoon in the Big Apple, mainly for a spot of shopping but also to see some Manhattan sights.
It was the first time the pair had ever been to New York, and although they were more enamored with Las Vegas, they were enjoying their time in the city and enjoying the shopping bargains more than ever.
Sheehan, who works in finance, had already purchased a Tommy Hilfiger coat, a few high-end handbags and Ugg boots.
O’Shea, not as enthusiastic on the shopping as his newlywed, had purchased a few bits and was ready to close the door on their shopping spree.
O’Shea, an electrician who is still managing to get an average of three days work a week during the recession, said they would pick up several presents while in New York.
“We’ll get a few presents and bits and pieces but we won’t be going too mad,” said O’Shea.
Sheehan smiled when asked was there a budget and said, “We’ll see.”
FOR an Irish train driver and his family, spending a week in New York was a bi-annual family tradition that they had no intention of letting the recession put a stop to it.
Sean Finnerty, his wife, Deirdre and daughters, Saoirse, 11 and Riona, 9, were rifling through the Guess handbags on the ground floor of Macy’s when the Irish Voice caught up with them.
“We love New York and come here every two years,” said Deirdre, a homemaker.
Finnerty, who works with Iarnroid Eireann (Irish Rail) and has suffered pay cuts like the rest of the government employees, said the family saved hard for this holiday.
“To be honest we are staying with family in Flushing which makes it possible for us to be here,” said Finnerty, while holding three bags from Abercrombie and Fitch.
“We usually stay in hotels but they are very expensive so we are lucky to have family here that can put us up, making our trip possible,” he added.
The Finnertys, from Co. Mayo, were in town two days and already had made a good dent in their spending money.
“Oh we’ve already done a lot of shopping,” smiles Deirdre.
“I got a hoodie from Abercrombie,” shares Saoirse holding up her bag.
“I also got t-shirts from Abercrombie,” adds Riona.
Deirdre and her husband had made several purchases for themselves in the all-American lifestyle store too.
“They are mad for Abercrombie in Ireland,” smiles Finnerty.
The Co. Mayo family was also in the market for jeans, shirts and jumpers.
“I’ve also been looking at getting a nice watch,” added Finnerty.
The family spent most of their days in shops and most of their evenings in nice restaurants.
“We’ve gotten used to the fine dining lifestyle in New York and have a few favorite restaurants that we go to when we come here,” said Deirdre.
To afford their trip to New York this year the Finnertys had to skip their annual sun holiday.
“We had to make scarifies somewhere, but we don’t mind at all cause we love New York and this is where the girls love coming to too,” explained Finnerty.
STANDING outside Bank of America, two blocks from Macys, and looking exasperated, were two friends from Co. Donegal.
Nadine Daly and Melissa Bailey were having issues with credit cards and “nearly had heart-failure” when they thought their shopping spree was about to come to an abrupt end.
“I was in the Gap and had about $300 worth of clothes at the counter when the lady said my credit card was refused,” said Daly half angrily, half sadly.
Daly’s bank in Ireland, Bank of Ireland, cancelled her card because they
suspected suspicious activity.
“They cancelled my card because it has never been used in New York before so they thought it was stolen,” she added.
“I’ve spent most of the cash I brought ($1,300) and began using my card today for the final bits and pieces I wanted,” said Daly, who works as a dental secretary.
Bailey, a social worker, was on hand to support her friend.
“I told her she could use my card because my limit is over 6,000 euros and I’m not planning on spending that,” said Bailey, who had only been to New York once when she was a teenager.
The friends asked Bank of America for help and they advised them to call Bank of Ireland and the situation would be sorted soon enough.
“We’re about to call this number on the back now so hopefully I’ll be back shopping before the shops close,” said Daly optimistically.
“We didn’t come to ‘Bargain Apple’ to sight-see, that’s for sure,” laughs Bailey.