Canal Street is the New York of the movies. Not the glossy, shiny Manhattan of Breakfast at Tiffany’s and ice-skating at the Rockefeller Center, but the grimy, frentic, smelly, traffic-jammed, rat-scuttling Manhattan where people trade, hustle, shout, elbow, swear, in the shadow of old tenement buildings.
At the far end of Broadway, with SoHo’s boutiques to the north, and bordered by the chaos of Chinatown to the east this is what I think of as proper New York. I like to walk around (looking purposeful, you can’t really wander around here without being mown down by sheep-like tourists) just watching people, before heading to Chinatown for dumplings and grocery shopping.
Whilst Canal Street is great for getting phones unlocked, and picking up electrical peripherals, the area is also known for the preponderence of Chinese men & women sidling up to tourists muttering fake bags, fake watches under their breath.
(I often get stopped in the street by tourists asking where to buy counterfeits, and take enormous pleasure in mis-directing them.)
So, given that Manhattan is over run with Christmas shoppers, searching for bargains, I thought this would be a good point at which to say: there are better souvenirs of New York available than a knock off bag or watch of dubious quality, flogged by underpaid and desperate workers, made by exploited sweatshop workers in filthy, dangerous conditions and sold to finance Triads, sex trafficking, the drugs trade and gun running. (I’m not pretending that genuine designer goods are always made in perfect environments but, believe me, fakes never are.)
Buying fake bags is NOT a harmless activity, is not a victimless crime. Here is Dana Thomas, author of ‘Deluxe: How Luxury Lost its Lustre in a piece in US Harper’s Bazaar last year.
“It is estimated that up to 7 percent of our annual world trade — $600 billion worth — is counterfeit or pirated; that fakes are believed to be directly responsible for the loss of more than 750,000 American jobs…
…I recall the raid I went on with Chinese police in a tenement in Guangzhou and what we discovered when we walked in: two dozen sad, tired, dirty children, ages 8 to 14, making fake Dunhill, Versace, and Hugo Boss handbags on old, rusty sewing machines. It was like something out of Dickens, Oliver Twist in the 21st century.” (Read the rest of Dana Thomas’ excellent article here.)
Every time you loop the handle or strap of your shiny new fake around your wrist, think of the tortured and exploited little child that made it tugging at the other end.
Do you really want your bag or watch to make that kind of style statement?
Photos: Taken by LLG on Canal Street, Saturday 11 December, 2010