December 6, 2006

NY is our new Lourdes as we shop til we drop in Big Apple

Posted in Celtic Tiger · 22 comments ·

Linda is a shopping planner. Yes, you heard right – a shopping planner. Not only does she organise tours of the great shopping Mecca that is New York City, she organises limos, special spa, nail and wax treatments and books restaurants after a hard day’s spending in the Big Apple.

She has the tell-tale sign of a bad nose job. Her once prominent honk looks as if it has been scooped out, leaving her with a tiny turned-up buttoney thing which is far too small for the rest of her equine face. The hair is layered blonde, expensive highlights and the black cashmere wrap marks her out 100 percent Manhattan – aspiring Upper West Side – but still living downtown.

The four or five weeks before Christmas are her paydays and her best clients are Irish. Not super-rich Irish, but run-of-the-mill folk who boarded Aer Lingus EI 105 bound for New York last Friday morning at 10.30.

The Irish are the seventh largest group of visitors to the Big Apple. Now think about that. We, with our population of four million, are not only the seventh largest group, but we are the fastest growing nation of tourists to New York.

This year, it is expected that over 350,000 Irish people will visit New York – the vast majority to shop. This figure is increasing by over 30pc per year and is up 145pc since 2001.

Given that our workforce is only two million and as much as 14pc of that figure are immigrants (who are unlikely to be splashing out in NYC), it means that over one-in-six of the Irish workforce travel to New York every year to shop.

So, far from being the super-rich-out-of-sighters, the average Josephine Soap is making the pilgrimage.

This development has not gone unnoticed by the New York authorities; and in June, the woman who runs New York retailing, Cristyne L Nicholas, and a man with the rather unusual title of “Chief Adviser for Irish Tourism”, Adrian Flannelly, opened a new tourism office in Dublin. They also run a “Next Stop NYC”, tourism marketing campaign created to capitalise on the booming Irish travel market, currently – according to the New York Times – “the fastest growing among New York City’s top 10 origin markets”.

Judging from the pure Dundalk accents in the upmarket Sephora cosmetic emporium on 5th Avenue, this campaign has been working. Where once the Irish pilgrims went to Lourdes, the new holy of holies is Midtown Manhattan on a chilly Sunday afternoon. Linda swans into the foyer of Fitzpatrick’s Grand Central Hotel on 43rd Street and Lexington to be greeted – like the Messiah – by 15 excited 40-something Irish women in skinny jeans.

She has the assault planned in advance. With military precision, the shopper will take Manhattan. First, there will be a financially, high-risk, quick incision uptown to Bergdorf Goodman and Tiffany, followed by a thrust down Fifth to Maceys. Having successfully achieved this mission, our well-armed elite shopping troop will fan out into Bloomingdales on Lexington, to regroup at Fitzpatrick’s at around lunch time. Linda has arranged a late brunch on Third Avenue, before heading downtown to the dangerous, boutique territory of Soho, Chelsea and the meatpacking district – formerly home to the notorious Irish-American Westies mob in the 1970s, but now host to more Irish credit cards than the Westies could have hoped to counterfeit in their pomp.

For the full-on shopper, boutique-land is a minefield. At Marc Jacobs on Bleeker Street, our Irish group – who had been conquering all before them – meet with stiff local resistance for the first time.

Post-op Jewish women are dipping deep into their alimony flashing their “Drop the Debt” Red American Express card (you can never be too virtuous), while second-generation Asian-Americans are vying for the attention of the gay sales assistant in that pushy but polite Chinese way. Anorexic models in comically high boots – which make them look like stick insects in concrete blocks – use their height to stretch over Dundalk’s finest at the counter.

A Mary J Blige lookalike with short natty dreads pushes past Monica from Castlebellingham and makes an unsolicited grab for a pair of half-price wedges. War is declared. The Irish women, realising that their advantage is in small tight formations, hunker down, almost prop-like and cover for each other as they hoover boots, shoes, bags, sandals – anything.

Linda, sensing a crisis, rallies the troops and they head for the relative safety of Gap and Urban Outfitters. As they leave the crowded hell that is Marc Jacobs, an ageing Yoko Ono double with big hair, big sunglasses and adolescent Puma trainers acknowledges Linda. Shopping planners have an almost Masonic ability to recognise each other at 50 paces.

In the late 1980s, Linda remarks, it used to be Japanese shoppers who invaded New York, today it is the Irish. This frenzy is accelerating and it is financed by excessive borrowing.

With one-in-six of the workforce coming to shop in New York and the same number owning second houses abroad, we have turned into the world’s most hedonistic consumers. All the while our debt-to-income ratio is exploding.

In the excited effervescence that is New York City in early December it seems churlish to bring this up, but if the financial day of reckoning ever comes, today’s budget measures by Brian Cowen will seem little more than deckchair rearranging on the Titanic.

  1. Vandala

    “Linda has arranged a late brunch on Third Avenue, before heading downtown to the dangerous, boutique territory of Soho, Chelsea and the meatpacking district…”

    Where on earth are you getting the idea that Soho and Chelsea are “dangerous”? Even the most salubrious areas of Dublin are about 100 times more dangerous than the areas you’ve mentioned.

  2. David Mc Williams

    Vandala, David here. I mean “financially” dangerous to frenzied shoppers with credit cards, rather than actually dangerous.

    Regards, David

  3. mc

    I think the “dangerous” description applied to Soho and Chelsea was in the militray theme of the shopping trip DMcW was following. Dave, it’s Macy’s not Macey’s and the westies were in the Hells Kitchen area (i.e. the 40s more or less west of 8th ave) not the meatpacking district which is much further south.

  4. john


    Could DmcW Misspelling of Macys be his way of saying’dont include me’?

  5. Paul

    Hi Dave,

    What did the lovely ladies from Dundalk ever do to you?

    On a more serious note, is there a rough estimate of how much is spent on these shopping trips and the effect of the loss on the Irish economy?

    Take 350,000 @ €1k = €350m

    The figure is probably a lot higher.

    God bless the Germans and the good old credit card.

  6. We should use the German credit card to build world class manufacturing centres. I guess the Germans are happy that we buy useless merchendise with their cash.

  7. Dan Hayes

    David & Co.:

    Your respondents sure know the lay of the land (Macy’s without the extra “e”, Tribeca and Soho being the new “in” places, the location of Hell’s Kitchen, etc.). May I add one more note to the shopping frenzy idiocy: these certified lunatics take a some 50 mile bus trips to far-off Orange County, New York to the Woodbury Commons to deposit their euros (soon to be transfigured into shekels).

    Happy Shop Till You Drop Season!


  8. Karen

    Bravo David & Co.

    Very humorous article & I do believe you have hit the nail on the head. It would appear that the Irish truely believe in the saying “long live lunacy!” Why buy indigenous?… or albeit even over the internet, when you can travel for hours on end over the Atlantic, spend hundreds on airfares, busfares and taxi fares, buy heap loads of junk you don’t need (via the German-induced credit cards we are all so fond of) and throw in a bank-balance-breaking spa break to top it all off. Fashion meccas have never really made logical sense, but then again if they did the world would be a much more boring place. Long live the dream, but god help the dreamers’ children who will doubtless inherit their debt…

  9. Ciarán Mc

    Paul above made an estimate of the expenditure. For Christmas shoppers, The Irish Times claimed that their survey showed that the average cost of flight + downtown hotel was about 1500 and that the average spend on shopping was to be in the range 2k-3k. That makes a total spend around:
    100,000 * 3500 = 350million (the 100000 was for Christmas shoppers alone).

    If 100,000 Irish people are flying to NY for Christmas for an orgy of consumption, what does this say about our chances of cutting carbon emissions enough to prevent massive climate change?
    This kind of frenzied, shopping mania is a manifestation of a compulsion to live for the moment, to experience, not delayed, but instant satisfaction. Clearly it overrides any concern for the long term. Monica’s grandchildren, eking out a living in their hellish climate and impovrished natural world, will have a different view of her trip to Tiffany’s and Gap.

  10. john

    Ethan Greenhart
    Is it ethical to go Down Under for the Ashes?
    Ask Ethan: Our columnist offers more advice on how to live the green and ethical life.

    Dear Ethan,

    I have been a cricket fan for years. I even named my daughters Willow and Maiden. I would dearly love to follow our boys Down Under as they defend the Ashes (or fail to, if early evidence is anything to go by!). However, Australia is an awfully long way away and I’m concerned that my own Ashes tour might turn parts of the planet to ashes…. Is there an ethical way to follow the Tests?

    Freddie Shaw-Toulouse

    Dear Freddie,

    I’ve never been a big fan of competitive sport. My own experience of cricket was to end up covered in bruises from that horrible, hard red ball they use. Sometimes, I think those bowlers were actually aiming it at me.

    But leaving personal feelings aside, as we all must do when the planet is at stake — I’m afraid that flying to Australia simply isn’t cricket. You might get to watch your favourite sport but you will also dent the planet’s sporting chance for survival. It won’t only be the little red ball that is knocked for six (and let’s not forget that those balls are made of cork, which is stolen from the beautiful Cork Oak tree, and leather, which is stolen from the hides of peace-loving cows); all our futures will also be knocked for six by your moment of sporting selfishness. Remember the first rule of the ethical life: LBW — Let Biodiversity Win!

    Flying to Australia is never acceptable, as I recently told a friend who was thinking of going to Sydney to visit his dying grandfather. (We eventually organised a video link-up powered by solar energy and wind.) So flying to Australia simply to watch 22 men hit a ball around, while 22,000 more men shout, drink and sweat, is nothing short of morally reprehensible. The flight will produce 3.75 tonnes of CO2 for each passenger, meaning you will have metaphorically chopped down 20 trees even before touching down Down Under.

    The journey isn’t the only problem. By travelling to see the cricket, and helping to sustain the cricketing industry, you are contributing to environmental genocide! Trees are felled to make bats and balls and ticket stubs; food and drink are transported hundreds of miles to keep the portly fans happily stuffed while they watch the game; and think of all the detergent required to get those red stains off Freddie and Co’s whitey whites. In this case, cleanliness is not next to Godliness; instead, their bright white outfits help to leave a big dirty skidmark on the planet.

    As we know, tourists suck up valuable resources — and sporting tourists are even worse, an environmental double-whammy. Travellers demand taxis, adding to congestion and pollution; hotels with clean beds and fresh towels and air-conditioning (don’t get me started on air-conditioning); guide books, tourist offices and bus tours. That’s right — buses that just go round in a circle and end up back where they started! And travellers consume large amounts of food and booze. How much of that will be local and seasonal? Will your hotdog in the stands be made from a soya-based meat replacement and locally sourced bread made in a traditional stove? Being Australia — land of men and meat — I very much doubt it.

    Sporting tourists also don ridiculous fancy dress outfits and demand junk food and carbonated drinks. That’s right – carbon-ated drinks. Think of how those fizzy drinks damage the planet every time you belch out the excess gas. It is not going too far to say that a beer-bellied thug burps in Australia and a flood kills hundreds in Bangladesh — never forget that we are all intimately bound together on this threatened mortal coil.

    All the beer and beef consumed at a cricket match also produces pretty nasty smells. This can make the local environment a less pleasant, less breatheasy place — and worse, it might encourage people to spray air freshener, and I don’t need to tell you that ‘air freshener’ is a profound contradiction in terms (these noxious sprays actually damage air in the long run). Personally, I can’t imagine why you would want to be couped up with so many other sweating men. I suppose you could offer them some homemade deodorant. I have a fabulous recipe for one based on lavender and beeswax; every time I wear it, intrigued people ask: ‘What is that smell?’

    Sport is not only bad for the environment; it is bad for people too. Have you not read the research produced by reputable Abuse Studies departments in British universities, which shows that women are more likely to be victims of domestic violence during a major sporting event? Men get so het up over the game that they end up taking it out on the missus. And how can we be sure that Third World women won’t be trafficked to Australia to keep Ashes fans happy, in the same way they were trafficked to Germany during the World Cup? A feminist-environmentalist colleague of mine recently uncovered the shocking, disgusting truth of human trafficking: every woman driven in a truck across borders contributes five tonnes of CO2 to the beleaguered planet! Man, sex slavery sucks.

    Freddie, you won’t like what I’m about to say: you should even avoid watching the Ashes on TV. That uses electricity, and there’s the whole domestic violence thing. Instead, we should deny sport the oxygen of publicity by banning it from TV screens, just as sport seeks literally to deny us actual oxygen with its great balls of carbon. Why not watch local sports instead? Get yourself down to the park and watch the kids working off their junk food. Some might say the cricket is not as ‘good’. But good is exactly how it will make you feel.

  11. john

    I live in Boston now, but ship stuff back to my siblings in Ireland every Christmas. Clothing, kids toys etc are at least twice the cost in Dublin so you could almost argue that the trip pays for itself.

  12. TomM

    Does anyone have any analysis to back up the claim “All the while our debt-to-income ratio is exploding”.

    Dont get me wrong – I believe it – just wondering has anyone got any quantitative analysis??

  13. Vandala

    Fair enough, David!

  14. I know you’re probably fed up hearing me say this McWilliams – but chill out.
    When the oil peaks in a few years time the farthest these spendthrifts will manage to travel is a bicycle ride to the local market !

  15. Allen-low cost

    WILLFUL WASTE MAKES WOEFUL WANT. This is exactly everything that is wrong with modern Ireland. Cocaine epidemnics and retail therapy. Property boom and social problems. Crime and pollution. Ireland is becoming a cultural colony of California. David is right, NY has replaced Lourdes, retail therapy has replaced prayer, and brand names have replaced pioneer pins as the emblems of virtue. We have descended a long way from DeValera’s vision of a frugal, free, virtuous, noble society where wealth was secondary to culture. Now the culture is all about self indulgence and excess.

    Apart from that, “God Bless the Guenthers” as the three lads from Apres Match might say ! Guenther has simple shops, none of ‘der fanci stof’. If stuff is much cheaper in Frankfurt or Berlin, and flights are also cheap, then who needs the most expensive city in the USA, NewYork even with the weak dollar? But then who would want to be seen bringing MediaMarkt electrical goods through Dublin Airport – even if they are better quality, and all you need to do is change the plug to three pin to get it to work, and it will run for another ten years.
    I mean the housewives of Dublin need to boast about what they did in New York. If it is seen as fashionable to do the shopping in New York, then every idiot will do the shopping in New York. The whole thing is nothing about value, and everything about lifestyle statement.
    It’s a number one reason why increasing numbers of Irish men (like myself) are going out with non-Irish women. It’s much share life with a woman who doesn’t need to squeeze an insupportable and daft lifestyle expectations/appearances into the relationship.
    Irish women are pricing themselves out of the market for a husband !! Maybe you should do an article on that David. And yes Dublin women, are as you can expect, like everything else in Dublin, the most overpriced !! Suprisingly for the Dublin media, the most enlightened men folk when it comes to chasing foreign ladies live in places like Kilkenny and Tipperary, where life is hard, wet, old fashioned, unfussy, and barebone.
    I have to had it to the Yanks. Whoever said “the business of America was business is right”. They never look a gift horse in the mouth.

  16. Hi David,

    Could I have your permission to host this article on our site? All references to your name will of course be cited.

    Please advise

    Best regards,

    Ronan Fitzsimons

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  19. [...] be less retail Euros to go around going forward and if a big slice is going to the North or to the aforementioned Big Apple then these retail developments would seem superfluous.If 1,500 jobs were being created by an [...]

  20. [...] back this week five and ten years ago reveals what was going [...]

  21. Louis Hoffman

    There is somebody out of a job then?

  22. [...] David McWilliams » NY is our new Lourdes as we shop til we drop in Big Apple She has the assault planned in advance. With military precision, the shopper will take Manhattan. [...]

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