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Canadians cross border to swamp stores on Black Friday

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Canadians behaved much like snowbirds on Black Friday.

Driving south in droves, they appeared to take every other parking space at the large stores on Arsenal Street. Canadian shoppers at Salmon Run Mall on Friday morning reported scooping up deals that are nonexistent back home. Many got a jump start Thursday night.

Her car with Ontario plates parked in the jammed-packed lot outside J.C. Penney, Esther E. Gaudet, 67, said she and three friends booked rooms at the nearby Ramada Inn for their shopping excursion.

Like many Canadians, the group arranged to shop for two days here to cash in on the new Canadian customs rule increasing the amount of merchandise they can bring back duty free. Last year on Black Friday, Canadians could bring back only $50 per person in merchandise after a 24-hour visit and $200 after 48 hours. Now the limits are $200 after 24 hours and $800 after 48.

“A lot of people I know in Canada are on a budget, and this law makes a big difference because now we can stay the night and still bring back $200 of stuff,” she said.

She also contended that Watertown handily trumps Ottawa as a shopping destination. “I believe that we should shop local, but it’s hard to do that when prices are so much lower here,” she said. “There are better stores, better merchandise.”

J.C. Penney opened at 6 a.m. Friday — much later than its competitors that kicked off at 8 and 9 p.m. Thursday night. Even so, the store was abuzz with traffic Friday morning. One reason for the long lines is that Black Friday weekend is one of the few times in the year the J.C. Penney offers sales, said store manager Daniel B. Cotton.

“It was gang-busters right from the beginning,” he said, adding about 24 employees were added to its staff of 80 to work the weekend. “I think we have a huge number of Canadians, and you’ll notice a lot of people speaking with accents.”

Friday morning at the mall, a ceaseless flow of shoppers hauled bags full of Christmas gifts. Taking a short break, a Canadian family stood near a kiosk outside the store Aeropostale. The Biccums drove here Thursday from Cardinal, Ontario, across the St. Lawrence River from Ogdensburg. They arrived at the Holiday Inn Express off Arsenal Street in the afternoon and started their shopping blitz at the Walmart in LeRay, which opened at 8 p.m. Thursday.

“We avoided the Walmart on Arsenal Street because last year there were too many fights there,” Mr. Biccum said with a laugh. “We’ve been doing this for eight years now, so it’s kind of like a holiday for us.”

He speculated that more Canadians from Ontario made the trip south than last year, mainly because of the tax-free border policy. “We also saw a lot more advertising in our newspapers about the stores opening earlier,” he added.

Along with the more liberal duty-free policy, Canadians also cashed in on the lower sales tax here. To illustrate, Ontario native Rose M. Willoughby showed off her New Balance running shoes she purchased Friday morning at Dick’s Sporting Goods. She bought the blue-laced shoes, normally priced at $90, on sale for $39.99, paying about $41 total including the 7.75 percent sales tax in Jefferson County; at home she pays 13 percent.

“If I would have bought these at home, I would have paid $100 after sales tax. ... The prices here are a lot better, and there’s a lot more selection” said the 57-year-old Canadian.

Starbucks on Arsenal Street, which opened at midnight for Black Friday, was also swamped with traffic, said manager Shana M. Bates. Baristas offered customers who stopped in the store free samples of coffee and snacks for the occasion.

“Canadian traffic is up here in particular,” she said, “and our sales are up over 30 percent from last year.”

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