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It’s a rainy Tuesday in New York City, but as Christina Stanton wrote to me in an email, “Bad weather never stops shopping!”Armed with umbrellas, we meet at the corner of Houston and Broadway for a couple hours of NoLita boutique hopping.
Stanton, a licensed private tour guide and operator since 1994, has been doing tours in Manhattan for more than a decade. Originally from Tallahassee, Fla., Stanton moved to New York to become an actress.
“I was a horrible waitress,” Stanton says, which ruled out the actor/waiter cliché. She decided she needed to learn a trade with flexible hours. But tour guiding didn’t end up being just a day job—it was something she grew to love.
“Everybody has a style in New York,” Stanton says. “I grew up wearing Talbots. When I moved here, I realised I needed to develop my own style.”
After inaugural years doing double-decker bus tours, where guides “cut their teeth,” Stanton found her niche leading neighbourhood-specific shopping tours.
Stanton now has her own company, NYC Tours, and freelances for many other tour companies. Her tours are capped at 15 people; the price per tour depends on how many people sign up on a particular day, but she says they run less than $50—a very reasonable price point for comparable Manhattan shopping tours.
“People have ideas in their heads of what shopping is,” Stanton says. “They often ask, ‘Are you going to show me something that I wouldn’t see on my own?'”
“Shopping is so personal,” Stanton continues. “No two tours are ever the same.”
She takes great care in customising her tours, consulting her mental Rolodex of stores to filter price points, sizes and specific requests.
“I have five minutes to decide where to take people,” Stanton says. “I need to accommodate the plus sizes, the men, and the New Yorker who thinks she knows everything.”
Stanton reveals the inspiration behind stores and what makes them unique. She throws in bits of neighbourhood history and entertaining celebrity gossip. Often, during the course of a tour, participants have the opportunity to meet designers. On my tour, I met designer Emmett McCarthy of EMc2, a line of women’s wear made in New York.
McCarthy first gained popularity on the second season of Project Runway, and subsequently opened the doors to his EMc2 boutique on Elizabeth Street in 2005.
Another differentiating factor in Stanton’s tours is her relationships with boutique owners and managers.
“I do so many tours and bring them business, it’s like we’ve become friends,” she says. As a token of appreciation, many have extended discounts to her clients. But Stanton is quick to mention that she doesn’t get a cut from the stores, which she considers a conflict of interest. “I take people to the stores I love,” she says.
We visited bit + piece, a contemporary designer boutique that won Time Out New York‘s “Perennial Sample Sale” for best new indie shops (April 14 to 20, 2011). Other stores included Agas & Tamar, featuring unique handmade Israeli jewelry, and lilith, a French clothing company featuring a full range of sizes, from XS to LL (a US size 14).
One of Stanton’s favourite stops is Use Your Head, a charity resale store where you can “shop for a cause.” Located at 262 Mott St., Use Your Head sells new or gently used designer merchandise from Missoni, Prada, Marc Jacobs, Rachel Roy and Nicole Miller, in addition to labels that appeal to vintage aficionados. Proceeds from sales go to neighbourhood initiatives and ACE, the Association for Community Employment Program for the Homeless.
As the tour wraps up, I can’t believe we’ve been at it for three hours. But that’s one of the best things about shopping with Christina Stanton—you feel like you’ve been hanging out with a friend who happens to be a professional shopping expert, with her Rolodex of stores catered just to you.