An Undercover Look At The Billion Dollar Fake Goods Market Of Chinatown

chanel bag

Photo: Business Insider

For a certain breed of New York tourist, picking up a knockoff Chanel bag in Chinatown is a trip highlight.But that could soon change.

The city councilwoman whose district includes Chinatown recently proposed making the purchase of counterfeit goods a crime, punishable by a $1,000 fine and a jail term of up to a year.

The legislator, Margaret Chin, says the law is necessary to deter counterfeiters, and that buyers of counterfeit goods cost the city around $1 billion in tax revenue annually.

Unsurprisingly, the backlash from Canal Street shoppers has been huge.

We decided to venture down to Chinatown for ourselves to survey the counterfeit scene.

Bottom line: it was sketchy, the knockoffs kind of sucked, and we came away empty handed. But at least we learned the right way to score an “A quality” Chanel bag for 1/50 the sticker price of the real thing.

We ventured down to Chinatown on a sunny Sunday afternoon to see what fake purse shopping was all about.

Our first stop was a sketchy looking storefront with rows of fake Bottega Veneta purses. The proprietor insisted they were real leather and that this bag was worth $210. It didn't smell like real leather and it didn't look like it either.

But it didn't look bad from a distance. This is the real version, which retails for $1,980 at Saks Fifth Avenue.

We said we were interested and he told us to sit in this Sbarro and wait. He even offered to buy us tea!

We sat in Sbarro, anxiously waiting for about 10 minutes. This definitely felt pretty sketchy.

He finally arrived with the bag in a black garbage bag, and handed it over for a look.

He let us examine the bag and try it on. He even put his lighter to the leather to prove it was the real thing (we think it was real, but not the best quality). But when we lifted the bag too high, he made us put it away so the cops wouldn't see.

The lining was red suede, which he also insisted was real. When we said we didn't want to pay $200, he dropped the price to $100, and then to $80. But we still said no and hightailed it out of there.

Here's the real thing. It would cost you around $4,000 at a Chanel boutique.

After that, we browsed around. There were tons of lower quality knockoffs in plain sight, including fake Coach, Fendi, and Betsy Johnson bags. But we got yelled at when we tried to take pictures.

We followed this guy for three blocks down Canal Street. He bolted ahead of us and we had to elbow a few tourists out of the way so we wouldn't lose him.

Finally, he turned onto Baxter Street, a Chinatown sidestreet filled with vendors.

Within seconds, we were approached by a woman whose arms covered in fake Tiffany's bracelets. She insisted the jewelry was sterling silver and even clasped one on our wrist. She was super pushy, but eventually wandered off when she saw we weren't biting.

Finally, our bag seller returned with the fake Louis Vuitton in a plastic H&M shopping bag and took it out so we could give it a feel.

Again, the quality was decent, but not superb. It was obviously not real, because the LV logo insider the bag was stamped on plastic-y fake leather.

The real version of this bag would set you back $710 at the Louis Vuitton store.

We came back empty handed. But maybe next time we wind up in Chinatown, we'll pick up counterfeit luggage, perfume, scarves, sunglasses, or watches. They're all readily available.

That is, unless buying counterfeit goods in Chinatown really does become a crime.

Counterfeit electronics are also pretty common.

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