The Urban Legend of Canal Street – New York, USA

A couple of friends of mine, Rose and Carolyn, and I had decided to venture into New York City on the day of the transit strike. We had a wonderful lunch at Grotto Azzurra, where the food was delicious and the service impeccable – it helped that we were the only patrons in the place. We also stopped in at Ferrara’s Bakery for the canolis. Then the three of us decided to walk the couple of blocks to Canal Street, infamous for its great deals on accessories and the like.

I had heard of the urban legend of the knockoff, high-end brand name merchandise that can be found on Canal Street. Supposedly, if you visit the right store and mention that you are looking for a certain brand, there may be a secret room that houses such things.

Turn south on Mulberry and follow it for three blocks; you will run directly into infamous Canal Street. You’ll see kiosk after kiosk after kiosk selling purses, gloves, pashminas, ruwanas, sunglasses, jewelry (both costume and authentic gold and silver) and much more. After walking east towards Broadway, we found one promising looking storefront with a nice selection of purses. As we entered, I noticed the wide variety of products, but nothing that even resembled the knockoffs we were in search of.

After a few minutes, my friend Carolyn called my name from the next aisle over, and said she wanted me to look at something. Naively, I walked over and asked what she had, thinking it was a nice pair of gloves or something. She leaned over and whispered to me conspiratorially, “I asked if they sell Coach and they are going to show us what they have. Where’s Rose?” I located our other friend, Rose, near the front of the store and called her over.

We were quickly joined by one of the saleswomen manning the store. She quietly asked, “How many of you are there?” “Three,” we responded. “Come this way,” she ordered. We followed her to a back wall, hidden from the front doors and windows. In my mind I was hearing the theme from Mission Impossible. You remember, dun, duuunda, dun, duuunda. Weird, I know, but I felt like we were on a secret mission. We looked around, avoiding direct eye contact with the other patrons, thinking each one was a spy.

As we came to the rear of the building, I saw a stack of two or three large boxes. I thought to myself: Is that it? Is that what all the brouhaha is about? To my surprise and delight, the woman moved the boxes to the side, pushed on the wall about three quarters of the way up and "click", a section of the wall opened. She ushered us inside. By this time my heart was beating a mile a minute thinking first, that the police were going to raid us at any moment and second, amazed at all the treasures that we found before us. Rack upon rack of Coach, Prada and Louis Vuitton were hanging from the walls. There were even some gorgeous Chanel bags displayed. It was like coming upon the cave full of treasure in the movie “The Goonies”, except this was a shopper’s paradise and the room was a lot smaller. I think the room actually glowed a little; I was sure I heard the song of angels for a moment.

The three of us stood there dumbfounded, then one of us giggled. That set us all off. We started to laugh uncontrollably until the woman quickly shushed us. We spent five to ten minutes in the room, looking at all the loot, but nothing hit our fancy. Some thought a few of the products were pretty cheap looking, for the price. Forty five dollars for a mid-size black-on-black Coach Bag that probably goes for over double that retail. I was just happy we got the opportunity to visit the "secret" room.

As we turned to leave, the saleswoman spoke into her cell phone/walkie talkie in some sort of foreign language, probably to see if the coast was clear before we exited, which added to our first experience in international espionage. As we were quickly ushered out, I noticed another woman being led to the sacred place we had just left. I hope she found something she liked. What agency did SHE work for – dun duunda, dun duunda, dundadaaa, dundadaaa.

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