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Back Breaks

Knead relief? Try these cheap Chinatown massages, where you can rub shoulders with the masses.

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It's hard to face Autumn: no more long lunches, no more weekends away, no more sandals to work--all enough to make one feel the weight of the world on one's shoulders and long for a good back rub. Determined to save cash for what we really want (more clothes and shoes), we hopped a subway to Chinatown for a traditional massage. With two hours to spare and $50 in hand, we got four.

When we get off the subway at Spring Street and Lafayette, the first stop is basement-level Best Chinese Tui-Na. Thirty seconds after pointing to "ten minutes" on the price list, we're facedown (fully dressed) on one of four beds in the single room. The massage consists of rigorous, head-to-toe kneading and occasional pounding--and we'll be making this a permanent pit stop before downtown dinners. Prices are from $7 for ten minutes to $40 for an hour.

On Mott Street, Katy's Face Professional Beauty Center offers a variety of beauty treatments, plus discounted products. Prices are steeper--from $35 for a half-hour aromatherapy massage to $60 for an hour--but Katy uses a hefty dose of Decleor essential oil, has a private massage room, and lets us sample ten minutes for only $15. The treatment is predictably fragrant and very, very soothing (you might ask for it sans Lite FM).

Around the corner, hoping the oil residue isn't a telltale sign of what we're up to, we turn into La Grande Mall, a shopping arcade with a sign for acupressure massage. At Wu Lim Services Company, a masseur who says he was a doctor before emigrating from China shows us into a tiny, dark chamber with three beds, two of which are already occupied. He applies deep, vibrating pressure on the neck, back, and legs (it somehow relieves our nasal congestion too). Prices are the standard $7 for ten minutes to $42 for 61 minutes.

Hungry for more, we can't walk past a sign for Chinese back rubs at 145 Grand Street. The large, surprisingly peaceful basement-level salon has twelve beds and a steam room (currently not working). The treatment is a powerful acupressure massage from shoulders to the soles of the feet (it makes you want the 40-minute, $28 foot rub too). Prices are the same as at Wu Lim--and it turns out it's owned by the same guy. Our cover's blown when our previous therapist strolls in after us, points at our current masseur, and asks who's stronger.

Best Chinese Tui-Na, 222 Lafayette St., basement (212-941-6038); Katy's Face Professional Beauty Center, 158 Mott St. (212-226-3278); Wu Lim Services Company, 179 Grand St., main floor (212-334-3909) and 145 Grand St., basement (212-925-1276).

Picks of the Week

Showroom Seven is clearing out piles of fall clothes and accessories from designers like Ghost, Lawrence Steele, Velvet, Frou, and Whistles, as well as a bunch of Erickson Beamon crystal jewelry. Prices are at least half off, from $20 for a Velvet top to $500 for a Ghost evening coat. Bring this issue, and you'll get an extra 10 percent off. Sizes 4-12. 498 Seventh Ave., at 37th St. (212-643-4810); A.E., M.C., V.; Mon.-Sat. 10-7; 9/7-9/17.

Capital A represents a group of knitwear and accessories designers whose wares sell at stores like Scoop, Steven Alan, and Barneys, including handbags from Maria Turgeon and Patch NYC (pictured), scarves from Cynthia Rose and Mark Snider, and tops from Souchi and Shopaholic. At the sale, samples are about half off: from $40 to $175. 20 W. 20th St., Suite 807 (212-807-9990); cash only; Mon.-Fri. 5-8; Wed.-Thurs. noon-7; 9/8-9/9.

Area's Swedish bed linens are made from pure cotton and linen in chic neutral colors and are sold at stores like ABC, Ad Hoc, and Portico. At the sample sale, prices are 50-80 percent off: Duvet covers are $40-$120; sheets are $20-$80; curtain panels are $20-$30; napkins and placemats are $4-$7. 180 Varick St. (212-924-7084); checks accepted; Thurs. 10-8, Fri. till 6; 9/9-9/10.

ACE Design, the NoLIta source for original modern furniture, is taking 20-60 percent off all stock and 20 percent off custom-upholstered reproductions (a large sofa is $4,600). Vintage pieces are from $200 for a Verner Panton chair to $2,800 for two Edward Wormley "Janis" chairs. 269 Elizabeth St. (226-5123) or www.acedesign-ny.com; A.E., M.C., V.; Tues.-Sun. noon-6; 9/7-9/21.


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