By Julie Shapiro
LOWER MANHATTAN — Chinatown tourists aren't quite ready to part with their counterfeit handbags, even if a proposed law makes it illegal to buy them.
Several tourists shopping for the knockoff purses along Canal Street Tuesday afternoon said that even a proposed $1,000 fine and the possibility of a year in jail would not deter them from continuing to buy the bargain bags.
"It's ridiculous," said Karen, 29, a Connecticut resident, when told of the potential consequences. "So many things, like cigarettes, are really bad — they kill people. This doesn't hurt anybody, so who cares?"
Debra, 47, who was visiting from North Carolina, said she buys the fake bags because designer labels make their merchandise so expensive that most people can't afford it.
"It's nice to have a knockoff bag and not pay full price," she said.
City Councilwoman Margaret Chin, who announced Tuesday that she will introduce legislation that for the first time would make it illegal to buy counterfeit goods, said knockoff bags are far from a victimless crime.
The fake goods are connected to organized crime, harm legitimate retailers and create a quality-of-life nightmare for downtown residents, she said. The trade also costs the city about $1 billion in lost taxes each year, Chin said.
"We can't keep going about this issue in the same way," Chin said at a press conference at City Hall on Tuesday afternoon. "Our law is incomplete, in that we only target the suppliers, not the demand."
At a separate press conference Tuesday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg was skeptical about Chin's proposal earlier.
Bloomberg told reporters that he takes the problem of illegal vending seriously, but "How practical [the legislation] really is I don't know."
The mayor added that the city has limited police resources and must spend them wisely.
The NYPD did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Chin said that while it would be up to the police to decide how much they would enforce the proposed law, the city could use it as part of a deterrent campaign to educate tourists on the dangers of buying knockoff goods.
Several tourists said they did not see how they could be held accountable for telling the difference between counterfeit and genuine pocketbooks, but Chin said the difference is clear.
"If they buy it from the back of a van or in a hidden alley or in a basement somewhere, they know they're buying counterfeit goods," Chin said, pointing out that real designer labels have boutiques and do not solicit customers on the street.
Both Chin and Wellington Chen, executive director of the Chinatown Partnership, said they want tourists who visit Chinatown to support local small businesses, rather than counterfeit vendors.
Chen said he hopes the legislation will spur a renaissance among Chinatown's artists and craftspeople.
"We can make better products, so someday we don't need to carry any other products but our own," he said.