Ronan Healy travels to New York with an empty bag.
“Clothes are much cheaper here,” said the Ireland native while wandering the East Village on a recent Wednesday. “So I basically come over here with an empty suitcase, just fill the thing up, and fly back to Ireland.”
For many tourists, New York is a shopping Mecca where daily purchase is equivalent to daily prayer. Visitors flock to stores with inexpensive retail and extensive selection, much to the delight of storeowners who depend on tourism to stay solvent.
In 2011, the city played host to 50.9 million visitors who spent $34.2 billion, according to figures from NYC & Company, the city’s marketing and tourism organization. Statistics show that visitor spending increases nearly $3 billion annually.
Of those visitors, 10.9 million were international tourists, and nearly one third were Euro users, according to NYC & Company. The Euro exchanged at a rate of 1 Euro to $1.29 U.S. dollars, as of Sept 24.
“It’s at least one and a half times more expensive [in Ireland],” Healy explained. “What is 100 Euros, here you get it for 50 bucks. They’re just adding on the prices themselves; it’s not that it actually costs that much, it’s just the stores are really expensive. There’s way more selection here.”
Like a seasoned bargain hunter, Healy has an intricate strategy for New York expenditures. He flashes his European passport to score 10 percent off purchases at Macy’s. If he feels adventurous, he travels to Macy’s in New Jersey, where the lower tax rate and passport deal shave even more from his bill.
Tourist spending such as Healy’s generated more than 310,000 jobs for the city in 2010, according to NYC & Company.
Joe Barbosa is one proprietor who relies on tourism to keep sales up. He makes his living selling records in St. Mark’s Place, and attributes more than half his sales to tourists. “I believe they spend more money than locals when they’re in town,” he said.
Across the street from Barbosa is a rock ‘n roll clothing shop named Trash & Vaudeville. Clothing racks boast tight, leopard print pants, skinny jeans with more holes than Swiss cheese, and lacy black vests.
Jimmy Webb, buyer and manager of the store, said the store sees equal numbers of locals and tourists.
He said tourists are particularly drawn to shopping in the city because of its reputation. “It’s this amazing, wonderful island packed with a diversity of people and lifestyles. Everyone wants to go to New York City.”
As Healy shopped, he tried to capture NYC’s character with his purchases.
“I come here and buy 10 or 12 baseball hats,” he said. “I give them to my family as presents, because people want some kind of Americana-covered stuff. In Old Navy—we don’t have an Old Navy in Ireland—it’s quite inexpensive, so we bring that home and they go, ‘Wow, that’s really cool!’ You know what I mean? Anything with a different label that you wouldn’t get in my country.”
He leaves New York with a stuffed suitcase.