Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Shop till you drop on Black Friday

Americans' biggest day for sales

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I knew we weren't in Canada anymore when we were zipping down the highway through Grand Forks and looked over to see a normal bustling fast food jungle looking oddly dark.

First lesson: Don't start driving to the United States seeking Black Friday deals hours before on the Thursday night with an empty stomach. It's the American Thanksgiving -- think Christmas here -- and the vast majority of restaurants and takeout joints are shuttered tight.

I also had another inkling about what we were getting into as we hurtled towards the Albertville factory outlet mall outside Minneapolis while zipping through Fargo. I looked over at the West Acres Mall area and saw tents bunched in front of the nearby Best Buy outlet and a line that went clear around the building. Nearby, other long lines could also be seen outside Target and Toys R Us.

"Where's the line outside Walmart?" I asked a worker at the takeout Pizza Hut, which was, from what I could tell, the only food place open there. "They let them in already."

It's Thanksgiving evening at 9 p.m., just a few hours after people ate turkey on one of the biggest holidays of the year for our American neighbours, and many of those same people are already shopping.

But that's Black Friday for you.

For Americans that haven't really discovered our country's Boxing Day tradition of having their biggest sales of the year the day after Christmas, Black Friday is their country's biggest shopping day of the year.

The sale day probably began in part when American retailers, in a country whose Thanksgiving is always on the fourth Thursday of November, decided that since many people also took Friday off, they would entice them into their stores with bargains.

Thus a giant retail day was born.

And how. Two weeks before the shopping day, leaked flyers from the major stores, whether it be Best Buy, Walmart, Target, Toys R Us or Kohls, begin appearing on special Black Friday websites. Websites like amazon.com begin having sales in the days before Black Friday, while yet another retail day, Cyber Monday, has cropped up for online sales on the Monday after Black Friday.

And where at one point retailers were waiting until 6 a.m. on the Friday to open their doors, a steady creeping back of the clock has now led to several announcing they will open on Thanksgiving day at 9 p.m.

Canadian stores are fighting back, with local malls like Polo Park and Kildonan Place vowing to open early on that Friday with their own sales to entice shoppers to stay on this side of the border.

Who knows what it will be like at Albertville this year? But last year, the factory outlet mall needed police to be out on the street directing traffic into the parking lot for hours starting on Thursday at about 9 p.m.

Many of the outlet mall's 100-plus stores opened at 9 p.m., more at 10 p.m. and by midnight they were all open.

You could walk right into many of the stores, but the most popular -- including the Coach outlet -- saw long lineups outside and security guards watching them through the night. I saw a line there on Black Friday at 3 a.m. and driving past to go to Minneapolis at about 11 a.m., I saw a line there.

Mind you, it was an unseasonably balmy evening, well above freezing. Many shoppers left their coats in their vehicles and several people were in short-sleeve shirts.

The outlet mall attracts so many shoppers that it has also set up additional off-site parking with shuttle buses bringing people to the site as well as having special shop-and-stay packages with local hotels.

It's actually a fun, party-like time, and several of the hotels in the area get into the spirit of things.

One of the hotel's, the Best Western Chelsea Inn and Suites 10 kilometres away in Monticello, is offering its own shuttle transportation to the centre until about 3 a.m.

It also will feature something to fill the tummies of hungry shoppers on their way to or back from the centre: hot soup and other snacks and drinks.

The next day -- or maybe it's later that day -- you can wake up with a complementary breakfast featuring both hot and cold items and take a dip in their pool and hot tub.

For those who want to stay closer to the action, you can't get any closer than the Country Inn and Suites located immediately behind Albertville.

This hotel also features help to keep Black Friday shoppers going, including coffee, hot chocolate and cookies. It also sets aside a meeting room so you can wrap your purchases with free boxes, wrapping paper, ribbon and tape.

Depending on your stamina, further west down the highway is Minneapolis and St. Paul, with tons of shopping including the Mall of America.

Just remember: while the Canadian government has changed the rules since last year so anyone who stays in the United States for two nights can bring back $800 (Canadian funds) duty free, you still have to have the room to bring stuff back.

So if you see a van with Manitoba plates loaded to the gills and rooftop carriers stuffed, wave to it -- it might just be me.

kevin.rollason@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 17, 2012 D4

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