My Boston shopping spree party
By Julia Brooks
Hurrah! The mighty pound is worth pretty much two dollars, and I'm off to the US to
spend the children's inheritance. But where to go for a weekend of extreme retail?
Not New York – who needs the schlep from the airport, all that attitude and being
stung by more than 8 per cent sales tax on everything you buy?
No, I'm going to Boston – shorter flight, a ten-minute journey from the airport
downtown thanks to the new Big Dig tunnel, no sales tax on clothes costing less than
$175 and, best of all, my secret weapon – my friend Anne Blumberg, who has lived
in the city for years and knows all the best discount stores. So we're not just
talking cheap, we're talking so cheap it would be rude not to.
My hotel, Nine Zero, has been selected by Anne as the ideal base. It's a funky boutique
property on Tremont Street, opposite some of Boston's most famous sights, including
the gold-domed State House and the Old Granary Burying Ground, where giants of
American Revolutionary history such as Paul Revere and Samuel Adams are interred.
But, more important, it's a minute’s walk from Downtown Crossing, where several
discount stores are clustered, and, as an added bonus for a shopaholic, it's the
only hotel in Boston where you can buy all the furnishings, from the fabulously
comfortable beds to the on-trend bathroom sink and the cocktail cabinet in the lobby.
To set us up for a hard day's shopping, we have a bargain breakfast at the Paramount
on Charles Street, where a stack of fluffy buttermilk blueberry pancakes, bacon,
coffee and juice cost a mere $5 ($10) a head. Then, to give me some idea of
what full retail prices should be, we take a quick stroll down the Bond Street of
Boston, Newbury Street, full of designer names and jewellers. Just for the hell of it
I try on a pair of $22,000 diamond clips in Dorfman. Surely a snip at £11,000?
Sadly, my husband doesn't take the bait. Cheapskate.
Our first stop is Filene's Basement back at Downtown Crossing. A Boston institution
since 1908, its "off-price" (aka discount) clothes, shoes and accessories, many of
them designer names, are famously subject to the Automatic Markdown Plan whereby
goods get cheaper the longer they stay on the racks. It can get enormously crowded –
and the biannual Bridal Run days, when thousands of brides to be and their mothers
stampede through the store to compete for cheap wedding dresses, are to be completely
avoided – but today it's not too bad, although it has all the glamour of a jumble
sale in a Scout hut. If you can see past the vile green Dolce & Gabbana trousers and the magnificently
bling Donald J Trump cufflinks there are some real finds for the determined. We
unearth Brooks Brothers silk ties for £10, cute Ben Sherman cufflinks for £10,
a dogtooth-check Yves Saint Laurent blouse for £65 and a lovely stripy Ralph
Lauren summer dress for our daughter for £15. Anne triumphs with a pair of Marc
Jacobs sunglasses which she has seen in his Newbury Street store for £125 but here
Designer Shoe Warehouse
We head across the road to the Designer Shoe Warehouse, whose vast selection is far
more orderly than Filene's. There are plenty of cheap and nasties but my husband
quickly spies a pair of classic Timberland deck shoes for £30 (£85 in the UK)
and Ecco loafers for £40 (£70 in the UK). Unfortunately, I lose the oxygen
to my brain for a crucial ten minutes and buy a pair of purple and blue flowery
After a quick foray in Marshalls, another off-price store, for half-price Hello
Kitty and Spider-Man toys for the kids, it's off to Wrentham Village, an outlet
complex 45 minutes from Boston, past the cranberry bogs on the South Shore.
The choice is overwhelming – there are more than 100 outlet stores and most of the
big names in US retail, from Ferragamo to Banana Republic. The high point is Ralph
Lauren, which is packed with shoppers seeking the Wasp preppy look and where classic
white sheet sets for single beds are £10 and men's chinos are £15. A 15
per cent discount if you buy four items makes them even cheaper. It's hard to resist
Gap jeans, too, when they’re £17.50 here and £39.50 in the UK. The Gap Kids
store is discounting summer stuff, so we load up with T-shirts and sandals, and I'm
even tempted by a Le Creuset saucepan in Williams-Sonoma, which is £35 instead of
£68 in the UK – but life's too short to lug cast iron across the Atlantic and
there's the airline luggage weight penalty to think of, too.
The only disappointment is the lack of toy shops. It seems that Target, a slightly
smarter version of Asda, has wiped out the toy store competition in the area, so
it's off to the branch in South Bay, where, glory be, I manage to find a Ben 10
watch for my small boy that has been sold out in the UK for months, and, at £7,
is half the UK price. I had considered buying an iPod, but interestingly, the
half-price rule doesn't apply here. They’re a standard £100 across the US,
compared with £129 in the UK and not worth busting my £145 duty-free
Exhausted, we head back to Boston and slump into Legal Sea Foods for a lobster supper.
It's plump and juicy and, at £18, half the price of one in a London restaurant,
but I'm too tired to crack a claw. If I really want to, I can buy one and have it
shipped home (by no means a bargain, but proof that in Boston, the shopping never
stops). We think we've done well, especially on big US brand clothes, shoes and linen.
Boston's a friendly and easy place to shop and it's possible to save the cost of the
air fare without too much effort – but Anne says that, had we come over on a bank
holiday weekend such as Memorial Day, the deals would have been even better.
Now she tells me.