Queens may not beat the extravagance of Saks Fifth Avenue, Bulgary or Bloomingdales, but it will certainly beat the prices, and by far. So if you are on a budget, take a break from the midtown scene and give the borough a chance. If you are a mall shopper, hop on the E train and get off at Queens Center Mall, which has everything every other mall in the country has to offer: parking space, food concourse, and a gamut of retailers whose names you know and trust. From such mega department stores as Macy's and JCPenny to smaller but no less-known brand names like Gap or Aeropostale to the exquisite boutiques like Bebe, there is something here to satisfy every taste. For home kitchen goods, stop by Sears for bargains or Bed Bath and Beyond for style and simple elegance.
If you are not a mall person and prefer to explore off the beaten path, take the R train to the Steinway Street stop in Astoria and you will find yourself right in the epicenter of all things retail. Great shopping has always been the trademark of Steinway Street, and you can find everything grown and manufactured on this merchant-packed strip of land – from avant-garde furniture to biker leather jackets, from designer labels to flawless knock-offs and from wholesale–priced cosmetics to rare jewelry.
A few brand names still maintain their presence on Steinway, but independent retailers, who select their merchandise carefully and in small amounts, prevail, so you're guaranteed to never see another person wearing what you bought in a small Steinway boutique. And, as the financial upheaval forced a few chains to close their doors, more independent little stores opened, offering a variety of goods you won't find anywhere else, at unbeatable prices. On Steinway, the brand names like Victoria Secrets, Express, and the Children's Place intermix with bargain dives offering three-dollar earrings and bracelets (a perfect place for gifts for your young nieces and cousins!) And of course there is a Starbucks when you need a shot of caffeine, although the locals prefer Greek and Arabic cafés where the coffee is stronger and more distinctive. After all, shopping is a strenuous activity and you gotta carry all the goods back, too. For health nuts, there is a Vitamin Shoppe and a GNC – no one in this day and age gets by without vitamins, sleep enhancers, or detox pills – they are just as essential as coffee.
Fashionistas will love Enu, Diva and Made in Columbia boutiques that carry hot sexy clothes and swimsuits for every taste at moderate prices. Those with a shoe fetish will get lost in Glory Shoes and Prima Donna Shoes and Bags. Hair and Make-up aficionados would fall in love with Ricky's, a small local New York chain, advertised as the cosmetics junkie's superstore. Worth noting are also Fever, Nicole's accessories, Baby Blue and Top Gun. For men's modern apparel, try Zig Zag. Once you cross 30th Ave, be sure to stop at The Grand Bazaar, a namesake of the one in Istanbul, Turkey, which carries a collection of Middle-Eastern glass lamps, throws and jewelry. And brush-up your bargaining skills – you can negotiate all you want, that's what boutiques are for.
Shopping is fun, but food is essential, and there's plenty of choice for a hungry consumer with two dozen shopping bags in tow: from three-dollar street kebobs (the juiciest are on the corner of Steinway and 31st Ave) to stylish Yamashiro with its crunchy tempura and awesome fresh fish that will cost you half the price of anywhere in Manhattan, to Basurero (Latin American) with steaks, burritos and killer mojitos. If you walk far enough to cross the 28th Ave you will find yourself in Little Egypt, a little Middle-Eastern enclave with hookah bars, kebab houses and bakeries that sell baklava and other deserts which melt in your mouth. For more familiar deserts like pies and cheesecakes, and comfortable outside seating turn West onto 30th Ave and explore of its many Greek cafés, which also serve terrific coffees, hot and frozen.