Location, we’ve been told and told, is everything. And in New York City, you’d be hard-pressed to find a retail establishment more cannily situated than the seventh-floor gift shop at the W Times Square hotel, which lies, not by coincidence, between the hotel’s bar and its bathroom, making it-like an umbrella salesman perched outside a subway exit during a downpour-a perfect kind of entrepreneurial flytrap. Because, late in the evening-when the traveling male executives staying at W find themselves in their cups, and perhaps in the thrall of a young woman of unknown reciprocal intentions-a number of them have been known to stop betwixt bar and loo, step inside the luxury-item gift shop and spend , spend , spend .
Hotel gift shops are typically occupied by grayhairs hunting for cough lozenges and travel toothpaste, but Corinne Moreno, the manager of the W Times Square gift shop, acknowledges that some of her best customers since the hotel’s December 2001 opening have, indeed, been amorous late-night shoppers under the influence. “One guy was buying $295 coil bracelets,” she recalled of one such occasion. “He bought two for his girlfriend. Then he bought one for the sales associate.” Another source affiliated with the hotel-who wished to remain anonymous-confided the already-legendary tale of another well-lubricated male who came in and bought a $5,000 diamond-faced Technomarine watch-for a cocktail waitress at the bar.
For the record, the W gift shop closes at 2 a.m. on weekends. Yes, you can drink in it. (“We can drink in the store? Cool!” we overheard one man exclaim the other night). Apart from the jewelry and fashions by Dolce & Gabbana and Marc by Marc Jacobs, you’ll find items-an Agent Provocateur strip-poker set, a Scrabble-like game called “Snatch”-indicating a certain hedonistic streak among the clientele. (Of course, this is also the hotel that offers something called “Sex and the Sheets,” where customers get a plastic sheet on their mattress and can smear themselves silly with whipped cream and chocolate syrup.)
Men, by far, are the friskiest customers. “The men come into the store drunk, and they use the store as an excuse to flirt with you,” said Caitlin Sheehan, a weekend sales clerk at the W store. “I come home every night with a bunch of business cards that go right in the garbage.” Of course, some of the male customers already have “dates.” “We have plenty of men coming in with escorts,” one sales clerk said. “Just the other night, a man walked in with two escorts and bought them a suede jacket and Dolce & Gabbana boots. And a Leigh Bantivoglio lace underwear set, French-cut panties and a camisole-$350 for the set. Really gorgeous.”
As willing as these customers are, Ms. Moreno instructs her staff not to take advantage. “I’ve spent seven years in retail, and this is quite a challenge,” she said. “The staff has been trained on when to stop selling. If someone appears too wasted to make a rational buying decision, the staff member has been told to say, ‘This item will still be here for you tomorrow!’”
Of course, it’s not the staff that the men have to worry about the most. “A few weeks ago, two attractive blond women in their mid-30′s from San Francisco walked in,” Ms. Moreno said. “There was this very drunk guy with them who they met at the bar. He bought them $500 worth of random things, like dog bowls. Then they bullied him into buying them necklaces. He said, ‘Well, are we going up to your room now?’ They said, ‘Yeah, we are, just go get your jacket first.’ As soon as he left, they booked it to the elevator. They were smart enough to keep the receipt.
“This type of thing has happened more than a few times,” Ms. Moreno said.
It’s important to note that unaccompanied women do shop at the W Times Square gift shop. Jeanne Beker, host of the long-running Canadian program Fashion Television , went to the hotel’s opening party to do a story and wound up spending about $400-at midnight, after a few drinks. “It delighted me that you could go shopping to that degree, at that hour,” said Ms. Beker, who bought various fuzzy dice and “a fabulous bohemian-chic purse.”
(“Technically, we cater to women,” said Ms. Sheehan, “because they’re less disgusting.”)
But, to be fair, the women can be just as plastered. “We see a lot of women coming out of the bathroom with toilet paper sticking out of their pants, stumbling, falling,” said Ms. Sheehan. “We have a Fabien Baron snowboard, and a drunk woman came stumbling out of the bathroom one night and asked if it’s a belt-and it’s so totally not.”
-Stephen F. Milioti