Find an outlet in upstate New York
Shopping at Woodbury Common is easier if you stay outside Manhattan
Outlets shopping. The idea had never appealed until one scorching afternoon in upstate New York I found myself stroking the fine leather of a pair of boots that had Paris written all over them. Well, not all over them, but discreetly tooled on the sole of each boot, together with the magic word Céline. The brand beloved of the Kardashians and Blake Lively is entirely out of my league, but on this day, it wasn’t.
There was hardly a soul in the store – a Barneys outlet that felt light years away from the Madison Avenue Barneys with its terrifying prices – and it seemed hardly believable that this was in fact a Barneys at all. It felt more like a drapery store in a quiet town. But the tags all said Barneys, and many were so old and written over with prices scratched out, they looked like the real deal, rather than merchandise made specifically for the outlet.
This was the last chance saloon for garments that had started out in ateliers in France and Italy – strikingly original pieces that were just too much of a challenge. We’re talking sale rail staples – tiny spangled gowns in flesh tones, droopy knitwear, leathers in weird colours. Handbags by designers who must be big on some other continent.
But, off in a corner, minding their own business on a top shelf, the Céline boots. Céline started out in the mid 1900s, creating hand made children’s shoes, and these boots might have been a bit of a throwback – black, with a smart little heel, not too high. Beautiful and sensible and, what’s more 75 per cent off. And they fit, even around the calves! Still, I hummed and hawed. Once upon a time they had been $1,280. The final price was still quite dear.
At the counter, the salesperson says that there’s 30 per cent more off boots today. Done. And so that is how I came to own a pair of perfect Parisian boots. Later, in the blessedly air-conditioned visitors’ centre at Woodbury Common, our little group compare purchases. One has gone all out on sunglasses, another has kitted out her entire family at American Eagle, another got shopping block and only managed a Donna Karan cardigan.
This is just a quick regroup before we all scatter again for a final assault on the shops. There are shops, shops and more shops – 220 and counting. Name a designer, a brand, and they are probably here. Prada, Tom Ford, Jimmy Choo, Chloe, Breitling, Canali and Balenciaga to name but a very few. Saks, Bloomingdales, American Eagle, to name a few more. Tory Burch, Ralph Lauren, Tods, at discounts of up to 65 per cent officially, but often a lot more.
The plazas have no shade and there are very few places to sit and relax out of the sun. There’s a single Starbucks and the queue is out the door. Too many cafes and the choice might distract from the main business. There are people wheeling their purchases around in suitcases; there are Asian shoppers with carrier bags strung the length of each arm. Not too many Irish accents but a few. Word has reached head office that things are improving in Ireland, and so we are expected back. If not in the same high rolling volume as before, back in the days when the girls would fly out with empty suitcases, stay four to a room in Fitzpatricks, spend a couple of days in the city shops and then get the bus out to Woodbury for the real shopping.
Woodbury is one of the biggest tourist attractions in the US and for Irish shoppers the big draw is that it’s close to New York – a 50-minute bus ride from Port Authority Bus Station near Times Square.
Our group took a different tack, staying one night in Manhattan before moving upstate to the Hudson Valley to check out the Mohonk Mountain House (mohonk.com), a marvellously old-fashioned family resort in a national park setting of around 26,000 acres of woodlands and walkways. The Victorian hotel has a Hogwarts feel, and was recently voted number one spa and resort in the US by Conde Nast Traveler. It has stay-and-shop packages with Woodbury Common, less than an hour away. Fellow guests included family groups who sat around enormous tables at breakfast before breaking up for the day to hike, jog, swim, go boating on the lake, or simply sit on their verandahs avoiding the in-laws, before regrouping for afternoon tea or dinner. For families who are divided over shopping, it’s a very sensible compromise.
Aer Lingus is offering New York flights from €239 each way from Dublin; €259 each way from Shannon. The deal, which ends tomorrow, November 24th, is valid for travel between January and May 2014. aerlingus.com