Mr. Giuliani has swept the streets of marijuana smokers and public urinators, Mr. Pataki is making the subways more affordable, Mr. Eisner has erased the last trace of debauchery from Times Square, and you still don’t want to go uptown? Well, who can blame you: it’s hell having to plow your way through platoons of tourists just to get that box of dusting powder at Macy’s for your old Aunt Faye. This year, why not confine your holiday shopping to the friendly streets of the East Village, where merry merchants have culled distinctive merchandise to please even the most outre tastes? To make your task even lighter, we’ve combed our favorite addresses, and are ready to recommend stuff that will set you back $20 and less.
We hit the sartorial jackpot at the very first store we visited, Daryl K’s bohemian factory outlet (208 E. 6th). Though admittedly less glamorous than the designer’s Bond Street venue, this tiny shop contains the ultrahip clothing Ms. K–a near cult figure to anorectic Conde Nast junior editors–is famous for. Here her renowned low-riding pants are unceremoniously dumped into bins, but the lucky recipient doesn’t have to know that: fish out a pair in the appropriate size (the day we stopped by there were shimmery turquoise and black-and-white prison-striped versions available), plunk down $15, and wrap them up.
The mood at Back From Guatemala (306 E. 6th) is far more Lori than Marisa Berenson, with most items perfectly suited to those Holly Near–spinning, Nation-reading funsters on your list. If your friends already have a tapestry purse ($12) and/or hat ($15) made by the Hmong people of Vietnam, consider a graven image from ”one of the largest collections of deities in the neighborhood–no, the city!” Ganesh, the elephant-headed god of wisdom, can be had in bronze for $15, in marble dust mixed with resin for $16, or as a wear-with-everything sterling pendant for $19. If none of the above strikes quite the right note, the shop also boasts a large musical instrument selection, including an item we’re sure no one, but no one, on your list already has: a rattlelike percussive affair, made of strung-together Peruvian goat hooves, for $14.
A radically different set of acquaintances (then again, maybe not) might prefer a little something from Body Worship (102 E. 7th), where the frankly s/m merch includes conveniences like the double-header-with-balls (if you have to ask…) along with the requisite tight-laced corsets, policeman’s hats, riding crops, and other spunky gear. There’s not much under $20 (”We don’t manufacture, everything’s made special,” explained the salesman), but we did manage to scare up a set of nipple clamps for $20 and a mean chain-link choker for $15.
Down the street at the winsomely named Sears and Robot (120 E. 7th), the stock is perfect for superannuated club kids: there’s a Hello Kitty umbrella with little ears for $10 (also available in panda and frog versions), a jaunty Ultraman watch for $16, and a translucent plastic Kewpie travel alarm clock, to wake the sleeper from a sound disco nap in plenty of time to complete his or her toilette, for $12. The immaculate haberdashery D.L. Cerney (13 E. 7th) will rearrange your preconceptions of what a vintage clothing store looks like–the offerings here are so exquisitely presented you’ll think you’re at Sulka on Park Avenue. Immaculate vintage socks, in a variety of midcentury patterns and colorations, are $15, and printed cotton boxer shorts from the same era are likewise $15. Everything is guaranteed fresh, unworn, and mint-in-box. (Well, you can’t really give used socks and underwear, now can you?)
In addition to purple velvet, green-winged dragons and elaborately beaded Christmas stockings (alas, both far more than $20), the newly opened Paper Rock Scissors (436 E. 9th Street) sells artful items like leopard-velvet sachet pillows for $9 and stamped leather money clips for $16 (is someone on your list due one of those Wall Street bonuses?). A few doors down, storefront couturier Mark Montano (434 E. 9th) has a Wings of the Dove–ish, choker-style ribbon necklace enlivened with rhinestones for $20, and a $15 black feather boa that ties high under the chin and will make the recipient look like a cross between Pierrot and the Lady Bunny. And, despite its name, No More Eggs (312 E. 9th) does indeed have eggs for sale: OK, so they’re really candles–at $1.50 per you can give an even dozen. Other bibelots include a cherub purse mirror in its own velvet pouch for $12, and a very dramatic glass votive holder–you could maybe stick an egg in there?–for $6.
Though the empty shell at 8th and Broadway that once held our neighborhood Woolworth’s brings a catch to the throat of even the most hardened Scrooge, we now have a Kmart in the old Wanamaker’s building. There’s a surprising number of likely candidates within: the lingerie department features a sheer black slip with a drawstring neckline and puffy sleeves–the unmistakable hallmarks of Prada’s Miu Miu line–for a piddling $15.99, and a panne velvet chemise in seasonal red or green is $10.99. Upstairs, a cartoonish rendering of Ernie (he of Sing and Snore fame) graces a transparent backpack that’s a mere $12.99.
Lastly, if nobody you know wants nipple clamps or goat hooves or Ernie packs, you still don’t have to show up empty-handed: florist Elizabeth Ryan (411 E. 9th) promises to fashion a bouquet of voluptuous blooms so exquisite that no one will guess it fell well within your pitiful price range.