Europeans Bargain Shop on Rodeo Drive
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
You'll hear fewer and fewer American accents in Britain these days or in Paris or Florence or Munich. The weak dollar has made travel overseas painfully expensive for Americans. On the other hand, strong foreign currencies have tourists from abroad visiting America in droves, to see the sites and to shop.
As NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates reports, it has made the posh shops of Beverly Hills as somewhat unlikely stop for bargain hunters.
KAREN GRIGSBY BATES: The twin towers of the Beverly Wilshire Hotel stand sentinel over some of America's most costly real estate. In the marble lobby you can hear several languages being spoken and guests being meticulously looked after.
Unidentified Woman: Good Morning, concierges. This is Kim. How may I assist you?
BATES: It's hermetically quiet upstairs on the mezzanine floors where the hotel's offices are located. Roda Aurora's(ph) office is so quiet. The only sound you hear is the ping of his e-mails as they arrive on his desktop computer. Aurora is the hotel's manager and regional VP for the Four Seasons Group, which owns the Beverly Wilshire. He says location is one reason the hotel has flourished for 80 years.
Mr. RODA AURORA (Manager, Beverly Wilshire): It's seen as the epicenter of Beverly Hills. When you think about Rodeo Drive, you associate Rodeo Drive with all the top brands, and here's the Beverly Wilshire right in the backdrop of the those brands.
(Soundbite of crowd)
BATES: Which would explain all these shopping bags from luxury boutiques being carried into the lobby - Louis Vuitton, Hermes, Gucci, all are seen here. And even more so since the dollar's plunge and the euro's rise. Roda says the twin lures of beach and bargain have become irresistible to Europeans who suffered through a brutal winter.
Mr. AURORA: Normally they would go to the East Coast to shop because it's closer. But I think what's happening now is, they think, well, another three or four hours, we might as well get some sunshine as well as do some shopping.
BATES: But, I asked Roda, is the shopping really worth the trip? How much of a discount are we talking about?
Mr. AURORA: I would say anything from 30 to 40 percent because that is the increase in the euro versus a dollar, so there's an immediate saving.
(Soundbite of moving vehicle)
BATES: Back out on Rodeo, I bump into three cheerful Italians who are here on holiday courtesy of our anemic dollar. Nicolo Teralo(ph) gives me their itinerary.
Mr. NICOLO TERALO: We're going to surf in Malibu, Santa Monica.
BATES: And probably shop. Nicolo says Rodeo Drive reminds him of Via Condotti and Via Frattini, equally swank streets in Rome. He thinks the merchandise here might be a little high octane for him, but thanks to the exchange rate, he might make a few purchases before he returns home.
Mr. TERALO: The euro is very strong here. Yes, we're here for good deals for us(ph).
BATES: So, you will be able to get more for your money?
Mr. TERALO: Oh, yeah. A lot of dollar up here.
BATES: The strong euro goes a long way at Brooks Brothers. Jim Jahant, general manager of the Beverly Hills store is seeing tourists from Europe, Asia, Australia, and South America coming in to buy the old school preppy chic that has kept Brooks Brothers in business for almost 200 years.
Mr. JIM JAHANT (General Manager, Brooks Brothers, Beverly Hills): With the tourists that come in, particularly from the European markets, they come in because they know the look, they know the quality, they like the classy look of the merchandise. But also, when they put the euros against the dollars, they feel that they're getting so much more for the money that they're spending here.
BATES: Are you wearing a Brooks suit now?
Mr. JAHANT: Everything I wear is Brooks Brothers.
BATES: I won't go any farther.
(Soundbite of laughter)
BATES: The conservative charcoaled pinstripe Jahant is wearing today is $1,900 here in Beverly Hills. Pricey, yes, but then he explains what you'd pay for it if you bought the same suit in London.
Mr. JAHANT: The same suit in London would probably go for about $28-, $3,200, U.S. dollars in their currency, though.
BATES: It's almost half the price here, such a bargain. So the posh hotels, the chic restaurants and platinum priced boutiques in Beverly Hills that would have languished if they depended on American money are saying, (speaking in foreign language) and (speaking in foreign language) for the infusion of cash from abroad. So far, it's made them recession proof.
Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News.
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