The Ancient World had its Seven Wonders. So does the New York shopping world—in the shape of its seven native department stores. In a foot-traffic town, these all-around retailers still rule, their witty window displays illuminating the city blocks they dominate (and have done, in some cases, for over a century). Many have branches across the country, of course, but if you think you’ve been there, done that—well, think again: shopping a century-old flagship is a whole different experience.
Macy’s Herald Square bills itself as the world’s largest store—and given its 11 levels, soaring over an entire square city block, who are we to doubt it? It’s truly the last of the one-stop shopping destinations, with a mix of merch that ranges from A(pple corers) to Z(ebra-wood chairs)—including along the way luggage, toys, appliances, and of course, clothing and accessories for various ages, sizes, and genders—most of it on the reasonable side (of course, you’re always free to splurge on one of the new Louis Vuitton boutique’s bags or a TAG Heuer watch). And given the bevy of restaurants and services (watch repair, visitors’ center, bridal salon) housed throughout the sprawling, columned floors, linked by vintage wood escalators, there’s almost no reason to leave. Except, maybe, to sleep.
Macy's, 151 W. 34th St., 800-289-6229, macys.com
We have two words for you: 65% off. That’s often how much Century 21 discounts its men’s, women’s and kidswear, accessories, cosmetics, bedding and housewares—all day, every day—bearing designer labels you’ve actually heard of, and collections you saw only a few months ago at full-price retailers. Of course, if you didn’t know this Financial District mainstay was a discount house, there’s nothing amid its 225,000 square feet that would tell you. The premises are neat and clean (part of the men’s department is even ornate, with Art Deco-style trimmings), the racks and displays orderly and organized. Gadgets geeks should take note of J&R Express, supplier of electronics and music, on the lower level.
Century 21, 22 Cortlandt St., 212-227-9092; 1972 Broadway, 212-518-2121, c21stores.com
Barneys New York
Barneys began life selling menswear, and today, it’s one of the few major emporia where men and women get equal space in side-by-side sections, with crossover points like the recently revamped shoe salon (so he and she can scope out lizard-skin loafers together).The store’s inventory favors upper-crust stuff—with the house brand merchandise being a little more mainstream, pricewise—and veers towards the avant-garde, with a lot of labels you don’t find elsewhere. That, along with the carefully curated selections from big name designers, makes Barneys seem the most boutique-like of department stores—a sleek, shiny premises with gray marble floors, glass, stainless steel frames, gold scrim and bright-white lighting. Its main restaurant, Fred’s, is a see-and-be-seen hang for the Upper East Side set.
Barney's New York, 660 Madison Ave. 212-826-8900, barneys.com
Bergdorf Goodman Men’s
Unique to NYC, the one-and-only Bergdorf’s is a glittering grande dame emporium, with the emphasis on the grande. From the plush carpeted floors to the chandeliered ceilings to the sparkling windows overlooking Central Park, everything bespeaks posh here. That includes the inventory, of course: the crème de la crème of couture clothing, cosmetics, home furnishings and art books. With its rambling layout through light-filled halls, it’s a feminine, Belle Époque sort of place, with two tea room/restaurants. Men have their own marbled, paneled-wood clubhouse across the street—with nothing but the best in suits, separates, leather goods and toiletries.
Bergdorf Goodman, 754 Fifth Ave., 212-753-7300; Bergdorf Goodman Men’s, 745 Fifth Ave., 212-753-7300, bergdorfgoodman.com
Perpetually busy, bopping and buzzing with shoppers bearing those trademark brown bags, Bloomie’s seems to have it all—that is, all you need to adorn body, home and hearth (affianced couples have registered here for, literally, generations). With its jazzy black-and-white tiles and Art Deco touches, it’s easily the most upscale-looking of the everything-under-one roof department stores, though the prices actually range from cheap to couture levels, and the merchandise from classic to chic. Dine-in options that include a burger bar, health café (where frozen yogurt was reportedly invented) and a restaurant designed by celeb chef David Burke ensure you have the energy to shop on.
Bloomingdale’s, 1000 Third Ave., 212-705-2000, bloomingdales.com
Lord & Taylor
In an increasingly polarized retail world, Lord & Taylor might be called a solid, middle-class citizen. Its animated holiday windows draw throngs from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day; the rest of the year, the emporium is quiet, as befits its residential Murray Hill neighborhood. It’s brilliant for basics—accessories, lingerie, cosmetics, jewelry and toiletries—and made-in-the-U.S.A. brands. The clothing (mostly for femmes) tends toward the reasonable, made even more so by the fact there always seems to be a sale on (and if there isn’t, the staffers often have a coupon or two up their sleeves).
Lord & Taylor 424 Fifth Ave., 212-391-3344, lordandtaylor.com
Saks Fifth Avenue
One of the first stores to colonize Fifth Avenue (as its name implies), Saks is venerable but fun—like your best friend’s really cool mom. The clothing is bridgewear category and above, from all the designer brands we know and love. The ambiance is elegant, but in a friendly, approachable way (thanks to an infallibly kind, knowing sales staff); the digs are big, but seem intimate—probably because each floor is broken up into a series of spacious boutiques, connected by a circular walkway. Makeup and nail bars and several eateries create a festive atmosphere that encourages lingering, as does a shoe department so big that it stretches across an entire floor, and has its own express elevator.
Saks Fifth Avenue, 611 Fifth Ave., 212-753-4000, saks.com