The Last-Minute Pro-Am Shop-Off

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.

3:15 Gita decided in advance that the husband will receive her splurge gift—a shiny new LX50 moped ($3,199) from Vespa Soho (13 Crosby St., nr. Grand St.; 212-226-4410).

3:40 On the way to meet her driver, Gita stops at Michele Varian (35 Crosby St., nr. Broome St.; 212-343-0033) for (8) a silk handmade pillow ($158) and (9) two ceramic origami ornaments ($14 each) for a mother-in-law. “The mother-in-law has everything, and this is an ornate handmade piece,” she explains.

3:55 On her return visit to Astor Wines & Spirits (12 Astor Pl., at Lafayette St.; 212-674-7500), Gita picks up a fine (10) single-malt eighteen-year-old Macallan ($110) for Grandpa.4:20 Back in the car and back to De La Vega (102 St. Marks Place, nr. First Ave.; 212-876-8649) for (11) a signed framed postcard ($26) by De La Vega himself, of whom she’s a fan, for a best friend.

4:35 Another gift for Grandpa at Alphabets (115 Ave. A, nr. Seventh St.; 212-475-7250): (12) a Yoshitomo Nara ashtray ($50) that says TOO YOUNG TO DIE. “It’s always good to get something cheeky for the grandparents,” says Gita. Then she spies (13) “sex IOUs” ($6) at the checkout counter—a spicy add-on to the husband’s gift.

4:45 There’s time for one last stop at charming Mark Montano (434 E. 9th St., nr. First Ave.; 212-505-0325) for a gift to replace the mother’s Burberry earmuffs. Gita instantly gravitates toward (14) a beautiful gold-tiered necklace set with sea-green stones by jill i. designs ($130). “It’s hard to buy for mothers, but they’ll appreciate a unique piece,” she says. And Gita is done, with an hour to spare.

Total (not including vespa scooter)… . .$1,983.24*
Time … … … … … … .Six hours, leaving one hour to wrap.

The Professional
Joan Kaufman

Occupation: Costume designer and professional shopper.
Best Gift Ever Given: “I always give my sister the best gifts. Last year, it was a little Burmese Buddha. We like the whole spirituality, Dalai Lama kind of thing.”
Gift-Blitz Technique: “Make a good list of the people you want to shop for, and try to do it as a route.”

Monday, November 21
9:30 a.m. Joan starts right on time at her first stop: the MoMA Design Store (44 W. 53rd St., nr. Fifth Ave.; 212-767-1050). She has her route and gifts already planned in a little orange notebook. Here, she crosses (1) a red rubber Marc Berthier Tykho radio ($55), and the father-in-law, off her list. “It’s in the permanent collection,” she notes.

9:54 Next stop: Cartier (653 Fifth Ave., at 52nd St.; 212-753-0111). When the store opens, Joan immediately selects her splurge gift— (2) a Himalia diamond-and-white-gold bracelet ($35,200) for the wife. “You can pass it on to your children,” she says.

10:10 It’s a short walk to Tiffany & Co. (727 Fifth Ave., at 57th St.; 212-755-8000) for the grandmother’s gift. After glancing in her book, Joan goes to the china department and homes in on a silver lace platter. An assistant approaches instantly—Joan’s businesslike manner makes her a magnet for salespeople. The piece is $775, which is way over budget. Joan doesn’t flinch, just walks to the servingware and selects (3) the Holiday Platter ($165). “The family will enjoy seeing it once a year,” she says.

10:40 Like clockwork, Joan heads to Henri Bendel (712 Fifth Ave., nr. 56th St.; 212-247-1100) to pick up her best-friend gift: (4) colorful Dylan truffles ($22). It’s the busiest store yet.10:50 Back to the car and off to Hermès (691 Madison Ave., at 62nd St.; 212-751-3181) for one of Joan’s favorite client gifts: a leather Post-it holder ($205). Joan is greeted with a kiss on the cheek from a sales manager.

11:15 Joan walks up Madison looking for a father gift. She swears by (5) navy cashmere slippers ($315) at Loro Piano (821 Madison Ave., nr. 69th St.; 212-980-7961)—where she’s once again greeted like an old friend by a sales clerk.

11:35 Joan meets her driver and looks for another best-friend gift at Bottega Veneta (699 Fifth Ave., nr. 54th St.; 212-371-5511). She settles on a simple (6) black travel bag. “It’s practical, and everybody who travels uses Dopp kits,” she explains.

11:50 Joan’s last midtown stop is at Bergdorf Goodman (754 Fifth Ave., at 57th St.; 212-753-7300) for five rolls of (7) Midori wrapping paper. The store is teeming. Cramped quarters make checkout feel endless.

12:15 p.m. On the way downtown, Joan stops at So Good (28 W. 38th St., nr. Fifth Ave.; 212-398-0236) for seven (8) ribbons ($80). She greets the entire staff by name.

12:30 Joan has given most thought to the gift for a 15-year-old boy. She opts for something athletic over video games. A sales assistant at Paragon Sports (867 Broadway, at 18th St.; 212-255-8036) gives a quick, informative explanation of tennis-racket technology, and she buys

(9) a Babolat Aeropro Drive ($179) and Penn tennis balls ($2).

12:47 A quick car trip to Moss (146 Greene St., nr. Houston St.; 212-204-7100) to pick up the brother’s gift—(10) a Marc Berthier Voyager travel alarm clock ($60). It’s by the same designer as the MoMA radio, and Joan is pleased with her consistent taste. “Men love gadgets,” she says.

1:00 For the first time all day, Joan doesn’t have a store address. After a call to information, she drives to Tracy Feith (209 Mulberry St., nr. Spring St.; 212-334-3097), where she quickly picks up (11) a hand-knit burgundy F.L.A.G. capelet ($135) for a young female nanny. “It’s so much more versatile than I imagined once you put it on,” she says.

1:30 Off to Rebel Rebel (319 Bleecker St., nr. Grove St.; 212-989-0770) for (12) Hotel Costes #3 ($22), mixed by Stephane Pompougnac, for the best friend. Joan first heard the CD at Bergdorf Goodman—“It’s very cool and sultry,” she says.

1:45 Last on the gift list is a 9-year-old girl, and, as usual, Joan already knows what to buy and where to go: (13) hot-pink moon boots ($210) at Yoyamart (15 Gansevoort St., nr. Hudson St.; 212-242-5511). “Little girls love pink,” she says. “These are so practical for the intense New York winters.”

2:00 Since she’s finished way ahead of schedule, with plenty of time to wrap, Joan makes one more stop at Asian antique store Beyul (353 W. 12th St., nr. Greenwich St.; 212-989-2533), looking for a better client gift. She decides to return the Hermès Post-it holder and buys (14) a Burmese statue ($250) instead. “It’s a thoughtful gift, and every time they see it, they’ll know it’s special,” she says. Finished!

Total (Not including himalia bracelet)… . $1,912.80*
Time… … … … … . . Five hours, leaving two hours to wrap.

*Sales tax factored in.

The Winner
Joan completed her shopping with smooth efficiency, making a grueling task effortless, and she chose tasteful gifts. But ultimately, the most important factor is selection, and Gita was more original, ducking into specialty boutiques for creative presents. What sister wouldn’t love a dress you could wear four ways? The title goes to the amateur.

The Last-Minute Pro-Am Shop-Off