The last time I was in New York City my shopping pals and I made a pilgrimage to Canal Street, the home of the best knock-off purses you can find.
It’s a fascinating experience. You wander past all sorts of Chinatown street vendors to what looks like a regular residential street where you’re greeted by one of many young people who are just sort of hanging out. They wait for you to approach them. There’s no hawking…just in case. We asked one woman if she knew where bags were sold, and she picked up her cellphone and had a hurried conversation in Chinese while waving for us to follow her. We walked half a block into a row house, the woman checking over her shoulder the whole time. She led us inside, through the house and into the basement where she unlocked a room the size of a walk-in closet, filled with thousands of dollars worth of carefully organized and very fake purses and two more young women. (They had been locked in from the outside!) They had everything from Gucci, Coach and Fendi to Louis Vuitton. Nothing was priced over $100 bucks and most were $40 or $50.
Later, under similar circumstances, we were invited into a white van lined with rows and rows of bags. Sitting there I thought, this guy could start up his “store” and take off at any time! But he didn’t. He sold me “Coach” and “Gucci” bags instead, packed them in tissue paper inside a bag you couldn’t see through and sent us on our way.
Now a Chinatown councillor wants to fine anyone who’s caught purchasing these bags and she wants to hit them up for $1000. Apparently the sellers are too difficult to nab. It’s a big business in Chinatown and the real manufacturers of these bags say their business is hurt when a tourist buys a $50 knock-off of a $1500. bag.
That’s not the case with me! I can’t imagine a scenario when I’d pay hundreds or thousands for a purse. It just wouldn’t happen. But I would pay $60 or $100 so to me it was kind of fun to have something you couldn’t distinguish from the original. I’ve received many compliments on both bags. Since that trip I’ve read that proceeds from these bags have been traced to funding terrorists and other terrible things so I’ve decided it isn’t so harmless after all. Still, fining – and possibly even jailing – the purchaser is like letting a drug dealer walk away while you come down hard on the guy who bought a little bag of weed.