In the U.S., it was Black Friday. In Winnipeg, it was more like Grey Friday.
In a lighter, more polite version of the day famous in the U.S. for super sales, Winnipeg stores opened early. There were no stampedes, no shoppers rushing mall doors, no reports of pushing or shoving.
One shopper at the Apple Store at Polo Park accidentally ignored a lineup at the 8 a.m. early opening and was entering the store when he noticed he was jumping the queue and, like a good Canadian, he apologized.
"Oops," the man said, looking sheepish at another customer in line, "Is there a lineup?" He chuckled and wheeled around to take a place at the end of the line.
For the most part, crowds resembled any other weekday at Polo Park. Participating stores advertised discounts -- ranging from 15 per cent to 60 per cent -- on a sheet of 8x11 paper handed out at mall entrance.
Across Canada, border crossing recorded a steady flow of Canadians headed back from Black Friday sales in the U.S. but none of them reported long lineups.
Most waits ranged from 20 to 30 minutes, the Canada Border Services Agency said on its website. At some border crossings, there was no wait, the website said.
At Emerson, customs officers logged waits of about 10 minutes Friday afternoon. Border services spokesman Sean Best said Manitoba shoppers often make a weekend out of Black Friday.
Last year, 1,300 travellers crossed back into Canada on Black Friday. The next day, it was nearly four times higher: 4,500 came home.
This year, under changes to personal exemptions, Canadian residents can double their duty free purchases from $400 to $800 after a 48-hour stay in the States.
Meanwhile, Canadian pollster Ipsos Reid released a poll ahead of Black Friday that predicted Canadians are shifting to the Internet for shopping in the States.
Half of Canadian online shoppers planned to take advantage of Black Friday discounts and Cyber Monday sales strictly online, each spending an average of $220.
Clothes and accessories were the top sought-after Christmas gifts, the pollster said.
At Toys R Us in Polo Park, shoppers lined up out into the parking lot under crisp dark skies before 7 a.m.
The store offered deep discounts on brand name toys and a full slate of open cash registers and clerks to speed shoppers on their way. It marked the second year in a row the toy store copied Black Friday to keep Winnipeg shoppers from heading to the U.S.
"I came right for 7 a.m. and there was a long lineup," said Natalie Premsuch, who rolled out of the store with a giant box called Cook 'n' Grow' about 10 minutes later. "I have a 16-month-old daughter. It's a kitchen set for her," she said.
Mom Gwen Stevens said an MP3 player on sale for half price, at $17, was something she could afford to buy for each of her two daughters. "It's a good price and they'll be quite happy,'' she said.
Lineups stretched halfway through the length of the toy store, but no one complained.
If the goal is to keep shoppers north of the 49th parallel, it worked, the store manager said.
"We ordinarily open at 9 a.m. And we opened at 7 a.m. As you can see it was well worth being open," Toys R Us store director Mike Brooks said.
U.S. stores drain $5B
from Canadian retailers
TORONTO -- Niyousha Kerr planned to drive two hours to Buffalo, N.Y., from Toronto for Black Friday shopping at U.S. stores that will help drain $5 billion from Canadian retailers this holiday season.
"Things are always cheaper and then on top of that there are sales," said Kerr, shopping at Toronto's Eaton Centre. Kerr plans to get her Christmas gifts south of the border this weekend with her husband and two friends.
While retailers such as Hudson's Bay Co., Canada's oldest company, are advertising Black Friday deals of their own, higher duty-free limits, lower U.S. prices and a currency near par with the U.S. dollar will lead to at least a 25 per cent increase in lost sales abroad in November and December, said Douglas Porter, deputy chief economist at the Bank of Montreal.
The government in June raised the amount Canadians can spend duty-free to $200 from $50 for trips longer than 24 hours and as much as $800 for stays of more than 48 hours, giving shoppers more incentive to head south. Overnight trips to the United States rose 58 per cent from 2001 to 2011, the latest year data is available from Statistics Canada.
"People are doing little shopping vacations in the U.S., even for a weekend," said Porter.
"If you take a family of four down for a weekend the duty-free limit would be $3,200. Obviously, it depends on the family but I think that would pretty much fill the bill for the Christmas shopping season."
Black Friday, the day after U.S. Thanksgiving, is traditionally the beginning of the holiday shopping season in the United States when retailers lure customers with deep discounts. The name recalls a time when U.S. retailers would use the day to make a big part of their annual profit, and income statements would go to black from red.
Six per cent of Canadians planned a trip to the U.S. for Black Friday deals this year, according to a Harris-Decima survey of 1,004 people conducted Oct. 18 to 21 by the Retail Council of Canada.
In Toronto, 44 per cent of shoppers said they planned to buy gifts in the U.S. this holiday season, and 70 per cent said U.S. retailers provide deeper discounts, a survey by Accenture found.
-- Bloomberg News