For a firsthand account of how Brazilians are changing New York shopping, talk to Ana Paula Galvani, a Portuguese-speaking saleswoman at the Sherry-Lehmann wine store on Park Avenue. Tourists from Brazil stop by daily and don't hesitate to buy $1,000 bottles. "I sold 30 cases of 2009 Bordeaux futures in the last two weeks," says Galvani, a native of Mirandópolis, in São Paulo state. "I sell a lot to Brazil." A 12-bottle case of 2009 Château Margaux Grand Cru Classe Premier costs $15,540 for delivery in 2012.
You could produce a good index of which countries fortune has smiled on by tracking the languages spoken in the aisles of Louis Vuitton on 57th and Fifth, the interior of the Apple (AAPL) store on Prince Street, and the lobby of the Jumeirah Essex hotel on Central Park South. The Japanese were once the shopping kings. Then the Koreans, the Chinese, and the Russians. Now Brazil's economy is experiencing its fastest growth in 15 years, and the currency has doubled against the dollar since 2003. Armed with high disposable income, Brazilians have descended on New York.
The Prada store in SoHo has at least three Portuguese speakers on staff to cater to Brazilians. David Wasserman, co-owner of Stereo Exchange on lower Broadway, just sold a $100,000 home theater system to a customer from São Paulo. "Brazil has really hit my radar screen," he says. In a country of more than 193 million people, the number of millionaires in 2009 jumped 19 percent, to 126,882, from 2008, according to data compiled by Boston Consulting Group.
About 359,000 Brazilian tourists traveled to New York last year, up 41 percent from 2007. American Airlines (AMR) is adding 11 flights a week between the U.S. and Brazil starting in November. Fashion stylist Patricia de Azevedo Camargo Araujo of Santos, Brazil, has traveled to New York at least five times in three years to freshen her wardrobe with the latest from Chanel, Prada, and Louis Vuitton. The city's stores offer a better variety than what's available in Brazil, says Araujo, 39, who was shopping with her husband and two teen-aged daughters at Prada on Broadway.
Brazilians are helping support sales as Americans cut spending, says Chris Adams, chief executive officer of Sherry-Lehmann. "New York buyers are still the foundation of our business. But to see, in a down economy, a three- to fourfold increase from a market is just fantastic." The Brazilian who spent $100,000 at Stereo Exchange bought, among other items, a pair of $15,000 Bowers & Wilkins speakers, a $15,000 Runco projector, an $8,000 McIntosh Blu-ray disc player, and $7,500 in Kimber cables and power cords, says Wasserman. "We designed the system for him strictly through e-mail exchanges. He wired $50,000 to us and came up later to go through a complete demonstration." That's serious shopping.
The bottom line: Brazilian shoppers are boosting the fortunes of luxury retailers in New York. They're affluent and have a strong currency.