Byline: David Moin

NEW YORK — By noon Sunday, three hours after opening, the hottest store in town — Old Navy, on Sixth Avenue near 18th Street — is packed.
Shoppers say the women’s area is not for everybody, though the inexpensive assortment of casual sportswear, full complement of helpful but not overbearing service and clever displays — sweats in old grocery freezers; Schwinn bicycles, and escalators with visible moving parts — strike a chord.
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“They don’t gouge,” said Howard Scherzer, a men’s wear importer from Manhattan who came with his wife, Susannah, and son, Max, primarily for bagels and coffee (75 cents each) on the second floor cafe.
Scherzer called the cafe “a brilliant” idea, observing that Sixth Avenue has few alternatives for a coffee stop. His wife did pull a denim skirt, priced $7, off a clearance rack. Her assessment of the Old Navy scene: “A quick fix for a basic.”
“All the kids want are Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, Nautica and Old Navy,” said Scherzer.
Leslie McNair, a Manhattan cook with not a lot of money to spend, came for some socks despite having a cold.
“I’m not that crazy about some of the women’s clothing,” she said. Still, she spots a wool button crewneck, for $19.99. “Not bad at all,” she said, and a cotton turtleneck for $9.99, which tempts her, but she’s got enough turtlenecks at home. She would wear a long, rayon floral skirt, for $28, though it appears “kind of flimsy.” A $22 ribbed acrylic/wool sweater also catches her eye, though she suggests “shopping for it at The Gap, where it’s priced $34,” adding, “It would last longer, but this is still a nice item.”
She does select a pair of $6 black tights, though “you can’t really tell until you put them on,” and three pairs of socks, $5 for the set. “You can’t beat that,” she said. Liliane Bronfman, a former chemistry teacher from Manhattan, is doing last-minute Chanukah shopping for relatives from Oregon, saying. “Pressed jeans and Timberland is their idea of getting dressed up.” . She’s come to the perfect spot. “There’s a ton of merchandise here,” she observed. “It’s like Bed, Bath & Beyond. It’s a warehouse feeling, very casual, and the help seems into it.”
Perusing the store for her first time, she handles plenty of products. “I love to feel it.” She’s not sure about buying a textured sweatshirt, $24, or a red and white striped crewneck in cotton/spandex for $12.50, marked down from $18.50. Those end up back on the shelves. Later, she selects denim overalls for $20 and three thermal T-shirts for $12. “That’s what they’re wearing,” she observes, and she’s ready to buy.
She rides the escalator up where there’s an Old Navy staffer, proclaiming, “No one on my floor without wearing a smile.” Santa and two elves are up there, too.
Combing the store are workers resembling newscasters in walkie-talkie headsets. “I thought they were doing interviews,” says another shopper. Actually, they are communicating to other staffers to retrieve items from storerooms when there’s a request from the floor or if shelves empty out. It reflects an intensity and determination to move merchandise, and according to a sales associate, the store operates round the clock, restocking and cleaning up after hours for the next day of business. Previously, the sales associate worked at The Gap, parent company of Old Navy, where he also assisted customers but had to perform some less-desired tasks, like getting merchandise up from storage when a size was missing. Sometimes he scraped the gum off the floors. Old Navy has separate staffs for those things, he says. Good thing, too, he adds: “It’s been extremely busy.”

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