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Suzy Gershman, 64; wrote ‘Born to Shop’ guidebook series

By DENNIS HEVESI
New York Times / July 31, 2012
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NEW YORK — ‘‘My heart goes pitter-patter every time I walk into this closet-size store; I’ve never seen so many handbags that I couldn’t live without,’’ Suzy Gershman wrote of one of the hidden gems she discovered in her research for ‘‘Born to Shop Hong Kong.’’ “These bags are not copies, they just ­coincidentally look a lot like the handbags in fashion magazines.’’

Of another find, revealed in ‘‘Born to Shop New York,’’ she wrote, ‘‘This is the kind of small Madison Avenue boutique that you might pass without ever knowing that it is the ‘in’ place for Upper East Side ladies who like the Euro-Asian-artsy-hippie-boho look.’’

Ms. Gershman was the author of 16 ‘‘Born to Shop’’ guides, published over 26 years and compiled during hundreds of thousands of miles of worldwide wandering and, very often, back-street meandering. Six became standards that have been revised every other year — for New York, London, Paris, Hong Kong, France, and Italy. In all, more than 4 million copies of ‘‘Born to Shop’’ books have been sold.

Ms. Gershman died of cancer last Wednesday in San Antonio at 64, said Sarah Lahey, who for the last eight years helped her research and write the books.

The guides point shoppers toward local markets, specialty boutiques, and out-of-the-way shops with merchandise by artisans. They recommend affordable hotels and offer shopping tips. Among Ms. ­Gershman’s “Ten Commandments for International Shopping”:

  ‘‘Shop in local grocery stores, not only for inexpensive gifts but for locally made items that bring home the flavor of the destination; i.e., mustard from France, BBQ sauce from Texas.’’

  ‘‘Don’t buy expensive goods abroad, especially if it’s an item you cannot return.’’

  ‘‘Don’t buy into the national craze; i.e., a country’s national flag made into a head scarf. I mean, really. . . . ’’

‘‘The basic idea of the book,’’ Ms. Gershman once said, ‘‘is that it should read like we were having lunch and I was telling you about my shopping day.’’

In fact, just that kind of encounter inspired the series.

‘‘She was living in Beverly Hills, working as the West Coast style editor for People magazine,’’ Lahey said. ‘‘She was having lunch with girlfriends, and they decided to write a shopping guide for Beverly Hills. She was the one who did the writing.’’

Suzy Kalter was born in San Antonio. She ‘‘wasn’t a kid who had an unlimited allowance,’’ Lahey said, ‘‘but when she traveled with her family she would explore local markets and buy tchotchkes — she always used that word.’’

She was one of three children of Gloria and S.S. Kalter. Her father was a research scientist for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and the World Health Organization. Ms. Kalter graduated from the University of Texas in 1969 with a degree in journalism, then moved to New York to work in advertising and public relations. There she met Michael Gershman, whom she married in 1975. He died in 2000.

The Gershmans moved to Los Angeles where, while working for People, Ms. Kalter became a regular guest on television talk shows. In 1986, when the ‘‘Born to Shop’’ series started, she changed her name to Gershman.

Over the years she wrote for many publications, including The New York Times, and The Los Angeles Times.

Ms. Gershman leaves a son, Aaron; her brother, Steven Kalter; and a granddaughter.

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