Canal Street and Mulberry Streets in Chinatown

Canal Street Counterfeits and Criminals

Canal Street in Chinatown in Manhattan
Canal Street in Chinatown in Manhattan, N.Y. is where vendors sell counterfeit merchandise. (Photo by JL)

Canal Street New York

 Child Labor

Unfortunately, I was naïve the first time that I had shopped on Canal Street for a counterfeit purse in Manhattan, New York. Not only was I unaware that children, sometimes chained, made counterfeit purses in China, but their bosses paid them a pittance. In other words, some children who made this merchandise suffered slave labor.

Not only that, but I didn’t know that I would mingle with criminals on Canal Street. These criminals included purse thieves, pickpockets, con men, con women, gang members, human traffickers, and counterfeiters. Additionally,  Homeland Security wanted the counterfeiters.

Canal Street Knockoffs

Canal Street whirled with activity the day my daughter and I shopped for a faux-designer purse. Shoppers ducked in and out of stores haggling over prices for counterfeit designer merchandise. These items included watches, bags, sunglasses, perfume, electronic equipment, jewelry, clothing, and more. Everyone wanted a deal.

Counterfeit Designer Merchandise

Two women stood in front of a merchandise-packed store and whispered to us, “Gucci, Gucci, Prada?” Why were they whispering? Were the police around?

“Coach,” my daughter said,

Gucci, Prada, Coach, Hermes, Chanel, Louis Vuitton

The women whisked us through the store between shabby curtains and down dirty basement steps. Gucci, Prada, Coach, Hermes, Chanel, and Louis Vuitton were a sampling of their counterfeit wares. Merchandise loaded the room.

Many of these bags sold on Canal Street for under $100. However, if the bags were genuine they would retail in the hundreds and some in the thousands. Luckily, my daughter couldn’t find what she wanted, and we left.

As we headed down the street, another vendor hustled us. I heard, “Chanel? Louis Vuitton?”

“Coach,” my daughter said

 The woman said, “Follow me.”

She walked ahead of us for several blocks while talking on a walkie-talkie. When she approached a man, she told us to follow him.

Then we walked a few blocks, and he handed us off to another man. We followed him for several blocks, and he turned down an alley.

I knew that they didn’t want us to recognize them, and my worry increased. Furthermore, I tried to get my daughter’s attention who walked right on the man’s heels. Unsurprisingly, she didn’t seem to think twice about following him down an alley.

My Daughter Climbed in the Back of a Van

Finally, he approached a blue van, opened the hatch, and before I knew it, my daughter had climbed in the back. I imagined someone slamming the door, and the van speeding away. Today, I believe that I would’ve been too stunned to get the tag number.

Suppose They Trafficked Her?

“Get out of there now!” I said.

She reluctantly left the van. A man who had watched this scene approached us. He said that he was worried when he saw my daughter enter the truck. Additionally, he said that he knew that the police were surveilling the street for gangs. Plus, some of these gangs controlled the counterfeit, drug, and human trafficking markets.

 Counterfeiting and Criminals

 Alice Hines in the Village Voice wrote about a 2012 case when a group of criminals purchased legitimate designer goods and shipped them to China. Months later, counterfeit designer boots, purses, and coats arrived in the U.S.

Mills in China manufacture bags for less than $2 each. Then, they sell them to distributors for $10 to $30. After that, they ship them to the U.S. hidden among other merchandise, or they mislabel them. Finally, street vendors sell them for $50 to $100 each.

Additionally, most vendors live in poverty, and some are homeless. They sell their wares on the streets from trash bags, suitcases, cars or vans, or from stores or warehouses. The vendors are like pawns because it’s the higher-tier criminals that can make millions.

Why Don’t They Arrest The Counterfeiters?

If caught, authorities arrest and fine the street vendors. Though they could get a year in prison, they often return to the streets. Furthermore, the maximum jail term is four years for counterfeit possession valued at $1,000 or more, and 15 years for $100,000. Also, it’s not illegal for the customers to buy fakes.


Fake designer perfume seems to be the riskiest item for consumers because bottles may contain chemicals like antifreeze. In spring 2016, Homeland Security confiscated a tainted shipment that was already headed to retailers and online sites.


To this day,  I don’t like to walk near Canal Street, and if I am in the area I think about all the criminals.  Plus, I’ve never been big on counterfeits, and I feel that the best bet is to buy my merchandise from a reputable dealer or do without. Most importantly, I feel that it’s not worth enabling child labor and criminals.

Since Canal Street is packed with shoppers, I think that many people disagree with me. My other thoughts are that many shoppers don’t understand how their counterfeit purchases affect those involved in the process.

What do you think about buying knockoffs from Canal Street? Is it worth it or are the criminals not a big deal? Please comment below.

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15 thoughts on “Canal Street Counterfeits and Criminals

  1. If you daughter wants Coach bags, they do have really good deal on them at the Coach outlet. In addition to all that you mention in your article, there is a huge difference in quality with the fake bags. Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard.

  2. Ah yes, when I visited canal street (back in 2006) I was very (VERY!) aware what was going on there. I guess, being used to counterfeits being sold to us in Europe in several countries (with high penalties by customs when you return), I guess I’ve developed a 6th sense for it.

  3. That’s an interesting read. I never buy anything from the streets and now that I read the story behind these goods I am sure glad I don’t. Thanks for sharing

  4. I’ve learned the hard way that if you truly care about “authentic” you have to buy it from authorized dealers. I’ve seen some pretty good fakes however. What goes on in the back of this black market is quite sad. #TheWeeklyPostcard

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