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The Last-Minute Pro-Am Shop-Off

A professional and an amateur shopper go head-to-head: Who can find the best presents in under seven hours?


It’s happened to every New Yorker: You look up from your computer just before the holidays, only to realize you still have to buy gifts. A mad dash through the retail obstacle course ensues. How best to navigate crowded streets and sharp-elbowed shoppers? We got a professional who charges from $150 an hour for guided shopping sprees to face off with an enthusiastic amateur. Each was given a list of ten giftees—a grandparent, a parent, a spouse, an in-law, a sibling, a 15-year-old, a 9-year-old, a best friend, a business client, and a personal trainer—a $2,000 budget, one no-limit splurge item, and a car and driver. Standbys like gift certificates and candles were banned, as were online purchases. All presents had to be purchased and wrapped in under seven hours. And they’re off!

Photographs by Aaron Dyer  

Tale of the Tape
The Amateur
Gita Bhatia
Business development for Google.
Best Gift Ever Given: “A scrapbook for my sister full of all the fun things we have experienced together.”
Gift-Blitz Technique: “Don’t pick items— pick the places you want to go first. Give yourself fifteen minutes to walk around and window shop, and you’ll find almost everything you need.”

Sunday, November 20
11:20 a.m. Recovering from Saturday night, Gita stops for a much-needed cup of coffee at Café Pick Me Up in the East Village. She riffles through destinations and gift ideas scribbled on a sheaf of Post-it notes.

11:25 Gita plans to buy a gift at De La Vega on St. Marks Place. It’s closed—late openings are a disadvantage of small boutiques. She drives by Astor Wines & Spirits, only to find that it’s closed, too.

11:35 After a drive to midtown to look for Crate & Barrel on Lexington Avenue, Gita finds it on Madison—and discovers it doesn’t open till noon.

11:40 Gita charges up the block to Barneys New York (660 Madison Ave., at 61st St; 212-826-8900). It’s virtually empty. She heads straight for Lingerie and buys (1) a Marni bra ($135) and panties ($80) for a female best friend. “It’s not too sexy and therefore not creepy,” she says.

11:55 The doors are about to open at Crate & Barrel (650 Madison Ave., at 59th St.; 212-308-0011). Gita buys (2) a stovetop popcorn popper ($30) and Midnight Popcorn ($6) for a male trainer. “It’s really healthy because you don’t need any oil,” she says.

12:15 p.m. A drive down to Circuit City (52 E. 14th St., at Fourth Ave.; 212-387-0730) in search of an Xbox 360 for a 9-year-old boy. After finding a waiting list for it, Gita settles on (3) a Canon ZR100 camcorder ($330) as backup—her first choice is D.J. lessons.

12:35 On to Girlshop (819 Washington St., nr. Gansevoort St.; 212-255-4985), where Gita picks (4) a black-and-gray Butter by Nadia dress ($245) that can be worn four ways, which makes it the perfect gift for a sister. Then she ducks into a bodega to pick up (5) Tabasco ($10) and lime ($4) for the popcorn. While in line, she polls three boys, who agree they’d all want D.J. lessons.

1:07 En route to Scratch DJ Academy, Gita stops her driver at Bleecker Street and pops into Ralph Lauren (381 Bleecker St., nr. Perry St.; 646-638-0684) for a gray flannel wallet ($135) for her male client.

1:30 Scratch DJ Academy (434 Sixth Ave., nr. 10th St., second fl.; 212-529-1599) is closed, so the camcorder stays. Gita is disappointed.

1:35 Gita remembers that Lafayette Smoke Shop, where she plans to purchase cigars for the grandpa, is on 50th and Lexington. It’s not until the car reaches Park and 45th that a call to information reveals the store is actually on Spring Street.

2:05 Soho is a parking nightmare. Gita jumps out at Burberry (131 Spring St., nr. Greene St.; 212-925-9300) to grab a backup mother gift of earmuffs ($110), in case she runs out of time.

2:15 Gita has planned to pick up her gift for a 15-year-old girl at American Apparel (121 Spring St., nr. Greene St.; 212-226-4880). “At that age, girls are becoming more socially conscious, and this company is all about that,” she says. She moves through the crowds to find a cotton sheer dress ($26), spandex jersey hot shorts ($12), (6) spandex camisole ($16), terry running shorts ($20), and canvas LA-Z girl bag ($36). Checkout takes ten minutes.

2:35 Since she’s in Soho, Gita dives into the mob at Kate’s Paperie (561 Broadway, nr. Prince St.; 212-941-9816) for two Kate’s Celebration gift wraps ($8.95 each), two Making Memories tagged stars ($6 each), various ribbons ($32.95), and silver decoration twine ($8). 3:05 Gita walks to Lafayette Smoke Shop (63 Spring St., at Lafayette St.; 212-226-3475) for (7) two Davidoff Double R cigars ($26 each) for Grandpa.

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