The Dollar Weak, New York Stores Turns to the Euro

Shopkeepers in New York City have started accepting the currency of the European Union, as the American dollar remains weak and tourists jet in for bargains.

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ALISON STEWART, host:

Now on the NPR Web site, of course, they have their most emailed as well. Oh, we're actually not doing those e-mails, are we?

RACHEL MARTIN, host:

We're not, but it's still a really good story.

STEWART: Okay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: My bad.

MARTIN: We're going to talk about the euro. We've been discussing about how the dollar has fallen to record lows against the euro. And, as of today, one euro cost $1.50. Right now, if you walk down the streets of New York, it sounds more like London's West End than the West side. The streets are packed with European tourists looking for bargains. And we've reported this here on the BPP. There are some stores here in the city that are actually accepting euros. That's right, euros.

And NPR's very own Robert Smith hit the streets to investigate. Here we go now.

ROBERT SMITH: (unintelligible), there is plenty of head-turning merchandise.

Mr. BILLY LEROY: It's a stuffed baboon from Africa.

SMITH: There's a kind of fortune-telling booth.

Mr. LEROY: We have a Hannibal Lecter painting. A favorite.

SMITH: But Billy Leroy says, lately, people have been streaming into the store to gawk at something that no other American stores has, a big handmade sign that says…

Mr. LEROY: Euros only. And there it is, right there.

SMITH: The euros-only sign started as a sort of protest after Leroy got back from a buying trip to France.

Mr. LEROY: I couldn't buy any antiques at all. It was impossible to be able to buy something to resell here it in America because it's 50 percent more. I mean, it's impossible.

SMITH: So he thought he'd try to level the playing field by taking in more euros. When he put up the sign, it got spotted by a neighborhood newspaper, and then the news story went global.

Mr. LEROY: It seemed like last weekend, 50 percent of my customers were European.

SMITH: I think one of the reasons why we're paying attention to it and paying attention to you is this taps into a fear that some Americans have about their dollar and their standing in the world. You're kind of thumbing your nose with the American economy here, it seems like.

Mr. LEROY: Yes. And I got the hate mail, too, saying it's non-America and all that. And I, you know, wrote back and said on the contrary, it's very American. I'm adapting to the times.

SMITH: Now before we make this seem like the beginning of the end of the American greenback, there are few things you should know. Leroy will still take dollars if you offer. I mean, he's not stupid. And he's only hauled in about 1,500 euros, not enough to move the currency markets. It's more of a convenience issue.

I walked to the Diamond District today on 47th Street, and my informal survey found that about half of the jewelry stores would accept euros. Money is money, said one dealer - not that many Europeans even try.

Outside the Abercrombie & Fitch store on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, Toby Hadrett(ph) from Germany is trying to get one last shopping trip in before he flies back.

Mr. TOBY HADRETT: Most of the time, we pay with credit cards. It's not popular in Germany to take all of our - a lot of euros here to the U.S. because we don't know it. If the shops would do more advertising on that, I think then the people will bring the euros with them because they don't have to change their money.

SMITH: Just be warned, my international friends, that we're still a long way off in giving up the old-fashioned American buck. At lunchtime today, I pulled out an old five euro note, now worth about $7.50, and tried to get something to eat. The sandwich shop wouldn't take it. Starbucks said no way. Even Mohammad Wahiladi(ph) of the hotdog cart, turned up his nose.

Mr. MOHAMMAD WAHILADI: I can't accept it.

SMITH: But how…

Mr. WAHILADI: This is America, you know? Only American money would do it.

SMITH: If I managed to prove to you that this euro was real, how many hotdogs can I get for five euros?

Mr. WAHILADI: I'll give you like two hotdogs with soda.

SMITH: So in other words, if I'm going to use euros, I won't go hungry, but I might not get a very good deal.

Mr. WAHILADI: No problem.

SMITH: In Times Square, I'm Robert Smith for NPR News in New York.

Mr. WAHILADI: Thank you. Thank you very much. Have a good day, man.

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