Whether you are in search of a questionable Coach, an unreal Rolex or an imperfect Prada, a stroll through lower Manhattan’s Chinatown may have you quickly considering a counterfeit. The trademark infringement business may seem like a harmless amusement for tourists, but it is illegal and is said to cost New York City $1 billion a year in lost tax revenue.
However, not everybody knocks the knockoffs. Flagstaff resident, “Carol” (not her real name), frequently visits Manhattan for imitation designer handbags that she and her friends enjoy.
“Everyone loves a fake Louis because most people can’t tell the difference. My girlfriends give me $40 and I bring an empty suitcase to carry the purses home,” she said. “At night the vendors are on Avenue of the Americas and everywhere on the main streets. If they see a police officer, they’ll throw a blanket or a tarp over the bags.”
Currently, New York City Councilmember Margaret Chin is sponsoring a bill that would make it illegal for anyone to purchase a counterfeit product. The crime could be punishable with a $1,000 fine. Opponents of the proposed bill say it would be very difficult to prove that someone knowingly purchased a fake.
And although Teva Sandals designer Mark Thatcher of Flagstaff says trademark infringement steals the value of a brand name and has to be stopped, he says it is the job of the company to enforce its trademark authenticity.
“It’s not the job of the government. It’s not the fault of the customer. Every successful businessperson has to find out where those products are coming from and notify the ports of entry,” he says. “If your brand is known for quality and the counterfeit is a cheap imitation, then your brand could become known for being cheap.”
Nonetheless, Canal Street vendors and shop owners are eager to drop names like “Louis Vuitton,” “Tory Burch” or “Michael Kors” in subtle whispers as you walk past. They no doubt search for that look of recognition, and then confusion when you do not initially see the high-end designer goods. And that is the moment you begin to feel the sharp hook of intrigue.
Hidden under blankets, behind clothing or in secret drawers are Tory totes and awesome Oakleys. Vendors also don flesh-colored sleeves to cover a fake Fendi or copycat Cartier.
“People don’t ask us about knockoffs specifically, but they will typically ask us where the street vendors are in Chinatown,” said The Ritz-Carlton, Battery Park concierge Kay Patten. “Probably some locals shop there too, but for the most part, it’s not considered in bad taste if it’s not a bad knockoff.”
While New Yorkers are well aware shopping tourists come to the Big Apple for sport, those gaga for Gucci from 5th Avenue to Flagstaff are not usually fooled by the fakes. They are not always looking for the supplest leather and probably will not be disappointed when their phony finds do not last forever. But for $30 to $75, instead of $200 to $2,800, many shoppers are fine with calling a spade a spade for a little while, especially if her first name is Kate. FBN