Walk through Macy’s and you can spot or hear them from yards away. They are usually hustling excitedly around the Guess bags, or chattering in the Tommy Hilfiger section.
They are in groups of two or three, usually laughing, and calling each other over to do rough dollar to Euro conversions. Upon discovery of the conversion, they squeal in delight and express disbelief.
They are the Irish shoppers in New York City. In the height of the Celtic Tiger boom it was once reported that one-third of the shoppers in Macy’s around this time of year were Irish.
Although not represented quite as well this year, the Irish are still holding their own in Macys, and in New York City.
The Irish Voice caught up with some Irish shoppers in Macy’s in Herald Square on Monday, and while not too thrilled to be interrupted during their shopping binge, they were happy to have a quick chat.
KerryLee Hampenstall and Tracy Byrne, best friends from Dublin, got off the plane an hour before setting foot in Macys. Looking fresh after a seven-hour flight, the ladies are in New York with their daughters for shopping purposes only. They both have a budget of approximately $1,000 for shopping.
“And my husband’s credit card!,” laughs Tracy.
Both KerryLee and Tracey have been to New York before, but it is their daughters’ first time. “They have a budget of around $3,000,” says Tracey. “They want to get Tiffany bracelets, Mac make-up, Ugg boots, and Guess bags.”
How do the prices compare to home? “No comparison,” they say in unison.
“For example, the Guess bags here are less than half the price of the ones at home, and they are the up to date ones. Tommy Hilfiger jeans that I got here for $40 are €190 in Dundrum Shopping Center. The exact same ones!” exclaims KerryLee.
“It works out the same price as getting clothes at home, but we include a holiday as well,” says Tracy.
The ladies treated their daughters to a limo ride from JFK Airport, as it was their first time here. “The driver opened the roof for them to stand up going through Times Square. They just kept saying, ‘Oh my God,’” laughed Tracey.
Do they feel guilty going to New York shopping when there is a recession at home, and critics may blast them for spending their money in another economy?
“Not at all,” says KerryLee. “If the government didn’t tax things so heavily they would make more money because people would buy at home.
“We’re paying decent taxes. I feel that the government are getting their chunk out of me way or another”.
KerryLee was looking for a Juicy Couture handbag for her daughter, who lives in Australia.
“A big Juicy bag here is the same price as a small wallet in Ireland. Even by the time I pay for shipping to Australia it still works out cheaper.”
They head off on the hunt for the bag in question. In two hours they would leave for Jersey Gardens outlet mall in New Jersey.
“All in a day’s shopping,” they laugh as they wave goodbye.
Sisters Maura, Antoinette, and Aine Moran are on a mission in New York -- to shop until they drop. The Mullingar, Co. Westmeath trio have a budget of approximately $1,700 to $2,000 each, and they are determined to spend every last cent.
The sisters decided last May that they were going to start saving, so they don’t have any guilt in splurging. Has the recession affected them personally?
“Just me,” says Maura, an occupational therapist. “My wages have been cut by about €300 or €400 per month because of the pension levy.”
Antoinette, an assistant manager in a crèche, tells the main items on her shopping list. “Ugg boots and good shoes. For example, in Jersey Gardens, I got two pairs of shoes for $110. In Ireland, they would be €120 for one pair. We are really getting good deals, and treating ourselves too.”
Although the recession may not have personally affected her, Aine explains the way it has affected others.
“We have been shopping in New York before, but this time it was different when we told people. They are more jealous and begrudging, and make smart comments about it being well for some going shopping in New York during a recession.”
The sisters got the three flights for €900 and a five night stay in their hotel for $800, and they believe they are still saving money.
“We knew not to buy any clothes since May, so we have definitely got more for our money, and a holiday on top of that,” says Antoinette.
All three bought a new digital camera. And they are completely disenchanted with what they call the “rip-off Republic” at home.
“People are just trying to make ends meet and the prices are still high. Even neighbors of ours from Mullingar are heading up to Enniskillen in Northern Ireland to get their groceries,” says Aine.
The girls have managed to squeeze in Broadway show, ice skating and museum visits, as well as the odd Cosmopolitan into their shopping trip, all while saving money. Not a bad deal.
Margaret Reilly and her daughter Jenny did not wish to be photographed by the Irish Voice. This is because the Kildare mother and daughter team have not told their workmates that they are in New York.
“People are really jealous now that there is a recession and they can’t get what they want,” says Jenny.
An office assistant in Naas, Jenny says this time last year all of her friends were going shopping in New York. “It wasn’t a big deal at all. But now if you say you’re going, people express shock and disbelief that you can afford to, especially in this economy,” she says.
Margaret and Jenny have been shopping in New York every December for the past five years, and don’t intend on breaking the trend.
“If we give ourselves enough notice to save, and we don’t go totally mad, I say why not,” Margaret says.
She says the recession has affected her greatly, therefore her shopping budget this year is one-third of last year’s.
Jenny lives with her partner, who is currently unemployed.
“He is not happy with me going over here, but he doesn’t realize that I am in fact saving money overall,” she says.
While Margaret is being careful and sticking to a strict budget, Jenny is not having any second thoughts. “You only live once,” she laughs.
The Reillys admit that there is a reduced presence of Irish people in New York, but they are still surprised at the amount of Irish here.
“Our plane was packed with Irish, the hotel is full of them, and I hear them around the shops, so the recession is not as bad as the media make it out to be,” says Margaret.
Jenny explains that she would rather lie to her workmates about her week off work than face smart comments fueled by jealousy. She suspects there are many more Irish like her. Perhaps that is why many Irish people in Macy’s did not want to speak with the Irish Voice.
It seems that the Irish people have got their taste for the variety and value of shopping in New York, and that they will keep coming, recession or not.