Best for bargains: West 25th Street Market and Malcolm Shabazz Harlem Market

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West 25th Street Market | Malcolm Shabazz Harlem Market

1. You can thank Rudy
In 1994, then-mayor Rudy Giuliani announced plans to sweep 125th Street of its illegal sidewalk vendors and create a space where they could (lawfully) sell their wares. Today, approximately 85 to 100 year-round vendors set up shop in the Malcolm Shabazz Harlem Market, in the area adjacent to Little Senegal (or Le Petit Sngal).

2. A West African bazaar
The entrance to the daily market—with its tall green columns, rainbow-colored minaret-like towers and black-and-white sign proclaiming SOUVENIRS—is reminiscent of a theme park. But once you get past the chain-link entrance, the feeling is more of a West African bazaar, with a variety of imported and handmade textiles, fashions, jewelry and home accents, plus a large concentration of products appropriately imported from Senegal.

3. Embrace the interactive shopping experience
The neatly arranged rows make browsing easy, but unless you have pocketfuls of cash you’re willing to part with, this is not a place for the easily swayed shopper. Beware the rather vociferous vendors; closer inspection, handling of an item or even just straying close enough to the seller’s booth are grounds for a hard sell on the part of the merchant.

4. Any day but Sunday
Though the market is officially open 365 days a year, not all hawkers abide by the nonstop-work philosophy. On Sunday mornings, you can easily find yourself the sole shopper among just a handful of booths (“a lot of us spend that time with our families,” explains one vendor). This scenario might limit your selection, but it also increases your chance of getting a traditional “first sale of the day” discount of about 20 percent.

5. Compare prices
Many stores sell similar—if not the exact same—products, so take your time to look around and haggle before making a purchase. Delicate bull-horn bracelets in wear-with-anything shades of brown and cream were being hawked by at least ten different vendors for $3 to $7. But if it’s bracelets you want, Fatoumata Ndiaye (stall No. 49) is the woman to see. She has one of the market’s widest selections: five baskets piled full of colorful wrist wear from Senegal and Guinea, in everything from the aforementioned bull horn ($3–$6) to gem-embedded costume bangles ($7–$10). Her imported leather sandals for both men and women ($20–$25) are just as notable.

6. Handbag heaven
Just a few spots down from Ndiaye, five-year market veteran Alassne Traore (stall No. 44D) hawks bejeweled baseball caps and racks of traditional West African clothing ($15–$25). But the real reason to visit his table is his selection of handbags, including summery straw totes ($20–$30) and imported from Africa leather purses with intricate handmade designs ($25–$60).

7. Don’t play in mud—wear it
In the middle aisle, Mali Imports (stall No. 36D) features a rainbow of flowing sundresses, skirts and sarongs ($15–$20) made of mud cloth, a traditional Malian fabric made by weaving cotton, shrinking it, then dyeing it with a mud mixture.

8. Fruit that doubles as dishware
One of the first fruits harvested for ornamental rather than nutritional purposes, the calabash is a gourd that can be dried, hollowed out and used as kitchenware—bowl, glass or pitcher. Lightweight and eco-friendly, they’re for sale in various sizes from D. Jeneba Tawati (stall No. 39, $5–$15).

9. Made in the USA
Eschewing an African-only inventory, Abdou Rahmane, proprietor of Mika (stall No. 34), specializes in sterling silver jewelry, much of it American-made and acquired from local wholesalers. This all-indoors shop may feel a bit claustrophobic, but the merchandise is so carefully arranged that you’ll forget you’re in close quarters. The main table displays a wide variety of silver rings and costume jewelry ($8–$15); the more traditional Kenyan bull-horn necklaces ($10) and high-end sterling silver bracelets ($80) line the left-hand wall.

10. Flaunt Ja Rule’s belt buckles
Earl Harley, better known as Harley the Buckle Man (harleythebuckleman.com), holds court at the rear of the plaza (stall No. 76), where his hybrid store and workshop is adorned with photos of famous fans, including Diddy, Ja Rule and Bill Clinton. His blinged-out custom belt buckles, emblazoned with names and other etched designs, start at just $40.

Postflea: Since you’re already on your feet, you can stand just a little bit longer to queue up outside Amy Ruth’s (113 W 116th St near Malcolm X Blvd [Lenox Ave]; 212-280-8779, amyruthsharlem.com), the legendary Southern restaurant that counts a pre-quadruple-bypass-surgery Bill Clinton among its regulars and Al Sharpton among its food namesakes. The reverend’s chicken-and-waffles dish is one worth trying; it can be had fried or smothered ($9.75) and is one of the most popular items on the menu.

GO THERE NOW!
Malcolm Shabazz Harlem Market, 52 W 116th St between Fifth Ave and Malcolm X Blvd (Lenox Ave) (212-987-8131). Daily 10am–8pm, June 21–Sept 23 10am–9pm.

 

West 25th Street Market | Malcolm Shabazz Harlem Market

 

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Best markets in New York City
It’s flea market season in NYC—go hunting for vintage and designer treasures so good, you won’t miss the air-conditioning.

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