Less Is More


Your lack of funds, your bitter, cynical attitude toward the holidays, your carefully considered theories about the collapse of capitalism—none of these, alas, will get you off the hook with friends and family who expect some kind of gift in late December. Ever mindful of your political positions and sinking financial situation, we scoured the city for gifts $25 and under—some of them way, way, under—to help you endure the next four or so weeks.

At the tony Kate’s Paperie (561 Broadway, 941-9816) there are any number of options for Luddites who have not succumbed to the twin tyrannies of e-mail and digital photography. Classic parchment-colored Florentine stationery decorated with turquoise and gold paisley swirls are a ridiculously cheap $6 for a portfolio of 10 sheets with envelopes; linen-covered photo albums entitled “Images de Voyage,” for friends who pretend they’re French, can be had for $20; a blank book whose cover shows three jaunty cartoon women and the legend “Kindness Is Always Fashionable” is $9.95. (The authors obviously haven’t been to a fashion show lately.) A determinedly ungrammatical black patent leather photo album that folds up to look like a purse is intended, according to the cover, for “Me & My Bad Girls” ($12.95), and there’s also a matching journal called “Be a Bad Girl,” which attempts to stimulate the recipient with page headings that say things like “What’s the Baddest Thing You’ve Ever Done in a Car?”

As it turns out, those books at Kate’s only seem cheap. At Pearl River, the famous Chinatown department store (277 Canal Street, though a move to 477 Broadway is imminent, 431-4770), silk-covered notebooks for vixens who don’t feel the need to advertise their wantonness are a mere $1.50, and for that amount you get pages adorned with line drawings of pagodas. For just about twice the price—$2.95—there’s an address book with a rose-patterned cover. But not everything here can be easily relegated to stocking-stuffer status. A boxed set of four rice bowls decorated with a black and white pattern that has a vaguely William Morris feeling is $12.50 and makes a seriously nice present. Dimpled sake bottles have been inset with porcelain disks that feature puffer fish ($7.95); matching sake cups are $3.50 with fish, $2.95 fish-less. There’s no end to the cheap treasures here: An olive green silk handbag embroidered with dragonflies is fancy enough to serve as an evening bag; a rack of men’s ties (what? You think ties are a boring gift?) are pure silk, $5 each, and feature designs that appear to hail from the 1940s. (Could they have been hanging here for 60 years?) And there’s even something for exactly $1: a pink pencil-shaped pencil case that functions as a souvenir of New York City and is decorated with architectural landmarks, among them the hideous Madison Square Garden and the late twin towers.

Acquaintances who swelled the ranks of those 200,000 people at the anti-war rally in Washington last month might appreciate a token from Back From Guatemala (306 East 6th Street, 260-7010), which for the last 27 years has sold the kind of shaggy, comfy, natural-fiber clothing and handmade accessories lefties love. (The shop is under new management and is on the verge of a name change—if the sign says Worldly Possessions, go in anyway.) Earflaps make an alpaca hat from Bolivia ideal for a wintry picket line ($15); matching gloves are $10. A passel of items are available in richly colored floral papier-mâché from India, including small boxes shaped like cats ($8) and, believe it or not, dreidels ($9-$15). “They’re made for a company in Brooklyn but manufactured in India,” says the guy behind the counter, who also thinks the store’s Indonesian batik masks make excellent presents. “The big ones are $20, the little ones are $14. That’s a great price—on eBay they sell for $50 or $60.” Friends who prefer a more hands-on present might like a henna tattoo body-painting kit ($15), which can also provide the assembled party with something to do while they wait for the turkey to roast—or the pizza guy to show up.

Of course, for some people, a gift without an upscale designer label is just not a gift. For these shallow sorts, we recommend the wonderful Century 21 (22 Cortlandt Street, 227-9092), located directly across from ground zero and, as far as we’re concerned, an enduring beacon of hope for the future of downtown Manhattan. Plenty of items intended for far swankier shops have made their way to Century, and some of the stuff is even boxed, which immediately makes your gift seem classier. A pair of Geoffrey Beene fake fur earmuffs in their own little plastic house is $2.97; a red plaid scarf in a box that says “Guy Laroche Paris is $10.97. Unboxed but still nice are a vast array of soft wool Moschino mufflers in plenty of colors. A little bear wearing a red sweater that has an M across its chest adorns some models ($23.97); another style, typical of the house’s wit, features a monogrammed MOSCHINO ($19.97). Upstairs, in an accessories nook tucked away near the lingerie department, a pale green floral panne velvet scarf bearing the imprimatur of Oscar de la Renta is $19.97. But not everything here brandishes a famous label. A lavish makeup kit consisting of enough nail polishes, eye shadows, lipsticks, and brushes to keep a slumber party up all night is $9.97; a pair of Anna Nicole-worthy pink marabou boudoir flip-flops is $8.97.

If all else fails, you might at the very last minute pop into National Wholesale Liquidators Holiday Store (632 Broadway, 979-2400), where a number of items fall into the tantalizing under-$5 category. For $2.97 there’s a tabletop Christmas tree made of gold wire and sporting flimsy glittery balls, but shop carefully—on closer examination a number of balls turned out to be prematurely smashed. A small white chenille bear who would be perfectly presentable on his own comes with a drum filled with chocolate candy ($3.17), and there’s a boxed set of five midnight blue tree ornaments in sinuous shapes for $3.97. Even prettier are a quartet of perfectly clear balls decorated with traceries of fake snow. They’re alarmingly delicate, but at $4.97, who cares if they, like you, barely survive the season?

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