If the prospect of Valentine's Day gift-prospecting on 8th Street leaves you cold, if you believe that thoroughfare has succumbed irrevocably to booteries and marijuana-accessory shops, if you're convinced that your current state of penury makes gift buying anywhere out of the question, you are wrong on all three counts. Eighth Street is an excellent place for cheap gift-shopping, and plenty of its shops defy the smoke-and-shoe stereotype. And as for that business of not having enough money:
At Claire's Accessories (755 Broadway, just shy of 8th) there are perfectly lovely heart-shaped stud earrings with glittery centers for $2, hanging hearts similarly dressed up with rhinestones for $3, and pink-and-white openwork danglers for $5. (They're tiny, but tiny jewelry is the style right now, as a visit to the first floor of Tiffany will confirm.)
At 8th Street Lab (69 E. 8th) the merchandise is either very, very tiny or very, very gigantic: the black-and-white camouflage pants in the window have legs wide enough to hide a troopship. A minuscule undie-and-camisole set in lavender trimmed with pink butterflies looks like it would fit a two-year-old (the name of the manufacturer is in fact "in vitro"), but is meant for a slender young adult and costs $15.
A slightly more voluptuous galpal might prefer something from Contempo Casuals (65 E. 8th), one of several 8th Street stores that possess an uncanny ability to knock off trends with lightning speed. A loungewear outfit in baby blue fabric, which has been trimmed with lace and printed with floating Raphael angels, has pants roomy enough to be considered palazzo and a fitted camisole top pretty enough to be worn on its own. The whole business is $39.
Ninety-five cents more will get the gentleman on your list a pair of high-gloss black patent leather jeans from Bang Bang, the club clothes emporium at 53 East 8th. (Surely Lorenz Hart had pants like these in mind when he wrote, some 41 years ago, "I'll sing to him, each spring to him, and worship the trousers that cling to him.") The shop also features an ankle-length scarlet stretch-velvet dress, backless but for a quartet of narrow straps, that's been marked down from $39.99 to $29.99.
Directly across the street, at L'Impasse (another of the many 8th Street stores which specialize in skimpy, sleazy clothing that paradoxically looks good on only an impossibly innocent wearer), a more ambitiously designed version of Bang Bang's red dress is festooned with black marabou, but, alas, it's $89. A tiny skirt, made of the same red stuff and so short it could be mistaken for a pair of tap pants, is $42.
All these stripper clothes make longtime 8th Street resident Lee Baumann, the lingerie shop at 49 East 8th, seem positively prim. Amid an impressive selection of nighties, sheer body stockings, and other potential gifts, a thick red lace garter belt, suitable for a cancan dancer and happily marked down to $11, is the standout. If even that's too racy, Joyce Leslie (Unversity Place at W. 8th) has a gray twinset with pink flowers so demure you could give it to Mother Theresa, except that the inner sweater turns out to be a surprisingly saucy halter. (The two items are sold separately, with the cardigan costing $7.99 and the halter $12.99.)
Of course, there are some relationships that require the imprimatur that only a gift of jewelry can bestow. If this is the case, Millenium (1 W. 8th) offers navel rings for sweethearts whose pierced bellies are hardy enough to tolerate surgical steel. The rings feature sparkly if fake rubies, emeralds, and topazes, and can be had for $39. If your Valentine wishes to show off more than just his or her undulating tum-tum, Classic Concepts (31 W. 8th) can supply sequined pasties in a variety of color combinations, including an Arabian Nightsish black-and-gold pair, for $20. (It might be a good idea to throw in the glue, too, which the shop has on hand for an additional $5.) Top this whole minimalist ensemble off with a pair of cat's-eye sunglasses that have black velvet frames and deep blue lenses and are $15 at Gift Plaza (11 W. 8th).
But what if your beloved's mood is more Edgar Allan Poe than Gypsy Rose Lee, more doom and gloom than va va voom? For this sullen soul, a visit to Funhouse (61 W. 8th) may prove useful. Among a selection of clothing spooky enough for the dankest boîte, a coffin locket on a long chain is available in brass ($12) or the more traditional dust-to-dust wood ($14). (Either is just long enough to accommodate a dead water bug.) If you want to give this gift an added fillip, black panty hose decorated with white gothic letters that read variously Fuck, Slut, or Bitch are available across the street at Enz's (48 W. 8th).
Lastly, if none of the above appeals if neither pasties nor pj's nor cat's eyes nor coffins strike just the right note maybe you should just give in and go back to basics. A dollar-ninety-nine at Sweet & Nutty (9 E. 8th) will buy a selection of Double-crisp candy that comes in a little lavender trunk decorated with a teddy bear; a single rose from Esquire Floral Designs (39 E. 8th) is $6; and $9.95 at B. Dalton (Sixth Avenue and W. 8th) is all it costs for a hardback edition of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Love Sonnets From the Portuguese, a Valentine that has been melting hearts for the last 149 years.
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