Saturday, December 11, 2010

1894 - Christmas Crazy Town

A lot of this sounds like TODAY...

A Wild Rush of Shoppers from Morning Till Night.


The Native New-York Woman In Her Glory Yesterday - Streets and the Big Stores Crowded.

This holiday-making town went Christmas crazy yesterday. Everybody was either buying or selling something. Every man or woman you met - that is, every man and woman who looked happy - was carrying a bundle or two. The people without bundles of their own were mostly unfortunates who could be made happy by earning a nickel for carrying some one else's bundle or opening a carriage door.

For all shopping purposes it was Christmas Eve. The stores and streets were thronged with shoppers from morning till night. People who from force of necessity have left their Christmas buying until Monday will find pillaged counters and weary clerks.

The native New-York woman was in her glory yesterday. Her supremacy over her suburban sisters as a skillful pilot among multitudinous bargain counters and in the astute management of salesmen who can discover a troublesome customer at sight was obvious even to the most inexperienced man who followed at her heels. It is no use trying to temporize with the dry-goods salesman, or saleswoman, either, at Christmas time. They are masters of the situation, and they know it. It is only the thoroughgoing New-York shopped who can handle them. The motto of the experienced Christmas shopper is: "Get what you want, and get it quickly."

The weather was superb for people to be out of doors - and, judging from the condition of the streets, nobody had remained indoors. It was just cold enough to give people who had furs a chance to display them without appearing ostentatious, and not too cold for a woman without furs to appear at her best advantaged in a stunning tailor-made gown. It was just cold enough to compel the ladies to step along briskly and tinge their cheeks with the bloom of health.

As a matter of course, everybody turned into Broadway, especially in the afternoon. Put the average Saturday afternoon Broadway dress parade under the largest triple lens ever made, and you may form some idea of the way it looked yesterday. It was impossible to stop to speak to anybody. People who did not turn into the shops had to keep moving, and it was no easy matter to get in or out of the shops. But Broadway merely acted as a feeder for the general shopping district bounded by Ninth Street and Thirty-third Street. Sixth Avenue was as crowded as Broadway, while Twenty-third and Fourteenth Streets were simply jammed.

If anybody ever doubted that New-York women read the right papers to find out where to go for bargains, the shopping crowd of yesterday would have settled it. The throngs in Altman's, Stern's, Simpson' Crawford & Simpson's, O'Neill's, Lichtenstein's, Dainiell & Son's, and Hilton, Hughes & Co.'s were simply tremendous. Customers tumbled over one another to buy goods. Wagonload after wagonload of holiday purchases was sent off to the uptown districts. It was very late last night before all of them were delivered. It was almost impossible to get in or out of Vantine's. Judging from the way customers elbowed one another in Gunther's and Shayne's a great many people will go to church with new furs Christmas morning.

It would be interesting to know how much money passed over the counters in this city yesterday. When the bread-winning end of the family went home to dinner he was coaxed into accepting a half-hour's delay with good nature, and if he gave way easily under this pressure he was perhaps gently persuaded into putting out a little more money. It was no difficult matter to hide the bundles away over Sunday so that prowling little ones cannot get at them and tear the Santa Claus tradition into tatters.

The markets and stores where good things to eat and drink were disposed of did a thriving trade yesterday. It seemed as though everything was in the market if people only had the money to pay for it. The street "fakir" was in his element. He simply captured the town. He was uptown, downtown, and cross town, and it seemed as though he never before had such a variety of articles to sell. Take him at his word and you could purchase a gold watch and chain for ten cnets, and a real sable boa, with a head on it and glass eyes sticking out as natural as life, for a quarter. The innumerable jimcracks that seem to be invented simply to give the street "fakir" a chance are wonderful.

It was a fad a few years ago for society girls to keep a penny cabinet - that is, a cabinet containing all the articles it was possible to buy for a penny. If it were possible for a man in Brooklyn to have purchased a sample of every article the "fakirs" disposed of in this town yesterday for a nickel he would have to get a ferryboat to get them across the river. And everything seemed to sell. The weather was mild enough to induce one man to bring a load of canaries in wooden cages into Twenty-third Street and sell them at a dollar apiece. In a few hours his stock was gone.

The shoppers deserted the Broadway section in the evening, and the crowds massed in the avenues on the east and west sides where the working people live. There was a great sight to see in the streets in these districts last night. People there bargain and sell with all the keenness and eagerness that characterize their neighbors from the brownstone district. Most of them have to make a little money go a great way.

The shop windows on the east and west sides have their individualities. Some  of them would look very queer to Broadway shoppers. Americans who go abroad think it is a great thing to be taken to Petticoat Lane in London, or to the open markets of Paris on a Sunday morning. Right here in this city they may find a Saturday night scene equally interesting and unique. It is the open-air market in Ninth Avenue, above Twenty-eighth Street. Everything fit to sell is moved out of doors under the flare of naphtha lamps, and a multitude of people who bargain in nearly all languages under the sun are there to buy.

The New York Times
New York, New York
December 23, 1894