"Those shoes are amazing," we said to a woman we ran into on Boston Common. "Thanks," she said, with a little strut, "Marshall's." Our companion from the Midwest couldn't hold back. "You people are so twisted," she said, "always bragging about how little you pay for stuff, not how much."
She got that right. We New Englanders love a bargain. And the bragging rights that come with getting something fabulous for next-to-nothing? Priceless!
We were about to take on the ultimate bargain-lover's challenge: Newbury Street. With gilded names like Chanel, Burberry, and Valentino adorning the storefronts, the street is, of course, one of Boston's crown jewels and a must-see for out-of-towners like our friend Beth. But could true bargainistas find happiness there?
To hedge our bets, we started at the less-posh zone of Newbury, the Massachusetts Avenue end. A quick pop into Cherry Mart (349B Newbury, 617-267-0205), a Japanese conve-nience store on the lower level of the street, revealed a few cool, inexpensive gift items, like a set of metal chopsticks for $5.99 and spice mixes with labels in Japanese.
Across the street, we spotted a promising target: STA, a.k.a. Second Time Around (324 Newbury, lower level, 617-236-2028, www.secondtimearound.net). Consignment stores have cropped up all over town, with three on Newbury Street alone. As for this one, "We still care about brands, but at this end of Newbury, the stock skews younger," the sales clerk said. It's a very democratic mix: merchandise from J. Crew rubs shoulders with Mark Jacobs, but mid-range lines dominate. Mark-downs (a percentage off the ticketed price) are color-coded, making it easy to figure out how much something costs if you can do basic math. "Ooh, Burberry!" Beth said, spying a Nova plaid mini-skirt in size 10, marked $179 but 20 percent off. We also found a cute silk Kate Spade top ($39), but at size XS, it was a little too S for us ($39, by the way, seems to be a popular price point here).
Warmed up, we hit Rescue (297 Newbury, 857-350-4410, www.rescuebuyselltrade.com), another resale store. Here, too, they offer color-coded mark-downs. How do they differ from STA, we asked? "We pay cash outright [for clothing], so we have to be a bit pickier than STA — we're not really consignment," the sales clerk said. "We have to be really sure that something will sell. Also, we're more focused on men's clothing." This store has a boutique-y look, with nice displays. Our best finds: a DVF turquoise knit dress for $54, and a wonderful wool plaid men's shirt from Pendleton for $34. "Gift-worthy!" Beth declared, snatching up the like-new shirt.
The same could be said for the merchandise at Raven Used Books (263 Newbury, 617-578-9000, www.ravencambridge.com). "Carefully chosen, and gently used," is the slogan here. It's a great place to find literary novels, cookbooks, and other specialty books in pristine condition, usually at half the original price. And then we stumbled upon another find: Bobbles and Lace (251 Newbury, 857-239-9202, www.bobblesandlace.com), filled with moderately-priced, girly-girl clothes — lots of party dresses ($69 and up), sequined smoking loafers, and other trendy accessories. Lots of dash for puny cash here. And we couldn't help but notice all the nail salons, some offering mani-pedi specials for $35, a much better deal than you find in the suburbs.
Nobody can shop on an empty stomach, so we made a quick dash to Boloco (247 Newbury, www.boloco.com) to share a freshly-made Bangkok Thai burrito with tofu for $5.89. We also noticed a b.good (272 Newbury, www.bgood.com), where the burgers (turkey, veggie, house-ground beef) cost $5.99-$6.49 — two good, cheap lunch options.
Energized, we headed to STA (219 Newbury, 617-266-1113, www.secondtimearound.net). This small shop was packed with female customers (they don't sell men's things here, but they do at the larger store at 176 Newbury). We headed for the "staff's picks" rack, where we saw a pretty Valentino top for $125. "That sells for $450 down the street," a fellow shopper whispered to us as we fondled the silky fabric.
After braving the cozy confines of STA, we were ready to conquer another closet-size consignment shop, fittingly called The Closet (175 Newbury, 617-536-1919, www.closetboston.com). This high-end shop is a fashionista favorite. Beth quickly headed to the left-hand corner of the shop, lined with racks of men's designer duds. "Who's Ermenegildo Zegna?" she said, brandishing a sport coat. "Tom Brady's favorite," we replied while examining a fetching pair of gold Jimmy Choo sandals, twinkling on a shelf alongside Ferragamo and Laboutin selections. Here, the ticket tells you the date the item came in; after 30 days, the price goes down. Some offerings look like relics from the '80s, and others look a bit too well loved, but it's the thrill of the hunt that draws shoppers in. "Prices here are more 'reasonable' than 'cheap,' " Beth said. "But they have the most designer-y stuff."
We checked out a rack of candy-colored cashmere sweaters, and then it caught our eye: an eggplant-hued Donna Karan mohair-blend coat for $69. As we admired this dazzling little number, another customer pulled it off the hanger. "You should so get that," a sales clerk said to her. "It would go perfect with your hair." The woman's male companion said, "Do you need that?" In unison, the woman and the salesclerk replied, "What does need have to do with it?" That's Newbury Street in a nutshell, whether you are shelling out the big bucks or paying peanuts.
"We scored some deals today, so let's totally splurge on dinner," Beth said. As if. "Oh, honey, have we taught you nothing today?" we said, steering her to Cafeteria Boston (279A Newbury, 617-536-2233, www.cafeteriaboston.com), where the plate du jour is always tasty, and a deal at $16.50. Of course, we have sleuthed out the mahi-mahi tacos, a meal-size appetizer, served with pickled cabbage, radish, spicy crema, and salsa verde. They're great, and a mere $12.50.
"Great purse!" said the hostess, eyeing Beth's Coach cross-body bag. "Forty-nine bucks, at the Closet," Beth crowed.
Yankee or not, she is one of us now.
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at bairwright@