To New Yorkers who elbow their way to and from work each day near the Broadway-Lafayette subway station, the throngs of tourists that fill the streets of SoHo laden with bags may seem to be meandering aimlessly through the retail wonderland.
But many of them are on an international treasure hunt for specific brands, as well as the best prices.
“The majority of our clients are from somewhere else,” says Kyron Simmons, a sales associate at Sabon on Price Street in SoHo. He cites China, Japan, Korea and Saudi Arabia as places from which the boutique sees a lot of international visitors, nearly 11 million of whom visited New York last year, according to NYC & Company, a New York tourism-focused marketing organization.
Sabon, a purveyor of bath and body products where a tub of Lemon Mint Body Scrub will cost a customer $30, has 11 stores throughout New York, as well as locations in cities like Tel Aviv and Paris.
“The company itself is well known,” says Simmons, “but we don’t have stores in certain cities and states.”
Simmons sees international visitors who seek out the retailer falling into two categories: those who are familiar with Sabon but do not have a store location near where they live, and those who are hoping to buy a product cheaper than they could at home.
Sometimes, Simmons says, customers save as much as 50% by buying Sabon’s products, which are shipped to retailers from Israel, in the U.S.
“American brands are cheaper,” agrees Oriana Kubinska, while wandering Prince Street with Jadzie Krakowiecka and Paulina Bryzewska. The three women are from Lodz, Poland, and are spending several months in the U.S. as part of a program for university students.
While their primary objectives are shopping for clothes and presents and enjoying the deep discounts beckoning from nearly every display window, Kubinska also has an eye out for labels she can’t find at home.
“I look for things I can’t buy in Poland, or sometimes even Europe,” she says, citing Michael Kors and Forever21 as among her American favorites.
But though Kubinska and her friends enjoy the markdowns and the access to apparel unavailable to them in Poland, they have also visited cities throughout the U.S., and are aware that New York is far from their cheapest shopping option.
“The brands are cheaper but the prices are different,” says Kubinska. “New York is more expensive than Miami or Chicago.”
Still, Bryzewska says New York has a special appeal, even without the best bargains.
“We love this city,” she says. “I always shop when I travel, but it’s not my primary reason for going somewhere.”