Black Friday Shopping……Christmas Shopping in Bangor, Maine, huge discounts….those were the words that Wendy spoke that got my ear last week. Yup, Black Friday in the United States, stores are practically giving stuff away!
Black Friday Doorbusters…even the name sounded enticing. We could get all our Christmas Shopping done early, so we would have time to enjoy the Holiday Season and not have to spend a lot of time in the stores around home.
I had visions of spending the rest of the Christmas Holiday Season at the cottage, sitting by the Christmas Tree, roasting chestnuts in an open fire with the family, sleigh rides over snow covered fields, Christmas music on the stereo, Burl Ives singing, “Have A Holly Jolly Christmas” The idea of getting all the shopping done in November, and at “deep price discounts” was all too appealing, I started packing my suitcase while visions of sugarplum savings danced in my head.
So you know what happened next, the suitcases were packed and along with a couple of close friends, we were on our way to the U.S. with our pockets full of American dollar bills and credit cards loaded and ready to fire!
For us, a trip to the United States means the Maine, New Hampshire area, so along with a couple of good friends, we drove the distance and ended up in South Portland, Maine, staying at the Econolodge. We skipped past Bangor as it was in our plans to go to Portland first, then shop our way back to Canada, finishing up in Bangor, which we did. We arrived in the late afternoon on Thursday, the American Thanksgiving Day. Walmart was scheduled to open at 12:01 early Friday morning, yes, I mean midnight…..
So 11:30 p.m. Thursday night, found us sitting in the Dodge Caravan, like a pack of excited hunting dogs waiting to be let out of the kennel, watching the lineup of people waiting for Walmart. The line went in two directions, beginning at the front doors of the store and travelling around the front, down the sides of the building and around the back….wowee the people!
When the doors finally did open, it was surprisingly civilized, at least the part that I could see, there was none of the rushing, trampling other people in the melee like a buffalo stampede that I had heard about. Yes, there were some folks rushing towards something specific in the store, like big screen televisions, that they wanted, but otherwise, it was pretty decent.
We waited until the lineup dropped off as folks entered the store, and then took our place at the tail end of the line, sauntering along in that casual laidback way that eastern Canadians do, even if they are busting a gut trying not to break and run. Even so we were still inside the store in plenty of time to get some of the discounts. There were a few things in the centre aisles that we missed out on, mostly because we did not know about the centre aisle bargains, at least I didn’t. I went to the spots I like, like the Sports department, probably passing by some of the real deals in the main part of the store. If I was to go again, I would head for the centre aisles first I think.
So were there “deep discounts” like they advertise and like folks talk about? I would say yes, depending on what particular items you were after and where you went, and of course when you arrived. The stores were opening throughout the night, some earlier in the morning, some later, all with some pretty attractive ‘come-ons’ to get you there early, but the savings continued throughout the day, and yes, I guess my answer would be, it was worth it, there were lots of bargains. Everything from clothes, to electronics, to hardware, tools and toys, all marked down, jewelry too.
In fact, I found some of the bargains kind of overwhelming…in other words, I didn’t know what to buy, kind of like a kid in a candy store mentality. I would pick stuff up and put it down, thinking maybe that there might be something else just around the next aisle or in the next store that I wanted more than the item I had in my hand. That meant that believe it or not, I went a full day without spending a cent….not a cent…..
The next day though, that all changed. The stores were a little less crowded, still crowded but not as bad, and it was a little easier to see stuff. Not only that, but I also had time to learn what some of the prices were and comparision shop a bit. We shopped our way through Walmart, Sears, Kmart, Macy’s, Burlington Coat Factory, Kohl’s, JobLot, BigLots, Hallmark, The Shoe Department, The Maine Mall, Target, VIP Parts, Tires and Service, Lowe’s, Christmas Tree Shops, Regis 2106, Mardens, and lots of little places in between.
I found Sears had some of the best bargains, dollar for dollar and I was surprised to find that Kohl’s and Macy’s had some of the best prices, given the quality of the items etc. In other words, a top of the line item at say Macy’s was a better deal than a little cheaper version from another store. If I was doing it again, Black Friday I mean, I would spend more time at Kohl’s and Macy’s earlier. I also found Black Friday Target Christmas shopping to be pretty decent. I remember buying a Black and Decker electric drill there for $20 which I considered quite a good price. I didn’t really need another electric drill, but for $20 bucks, why not?
One thing I will say about the United States, those folks love to eat, and no wonder. They have some fine restaurants, and the food is surprisingly inexpensive, given the amounts on your plate. It’s hard not to gain weight, and it was always good. We ate in places like Denny’s, The Olive Garden, The Longhorn Steakhouse, Friendly’s and Pizza Hut, and the food was always great, inexpensive and in big quantities. I never went hungry, not for a moment.
Coming back, over the “number 9” as we call the highway from Bangor to the United States/Canada border, I was also impressed by the amount of yet untapped ‘cottage country’ still available in Maine. Acres and acres, miles and miles of woodland, lakes and rivers, it is truly a wild wilderness through there, and it certainly caught my eye.
It is a world of pickup trucks and 4X4’s, snowmobiles and boats, hunters and fishermen, outdoorsy types, the kind of place that really appeals to the mountain man in me.
I love it through that part of Maine, and promised myself to go there someday on a little outdoorsy vacation instead of a shopping vacation. There are woodsy places in there a person could disappear into, really leave the maddening crowd and rush behind, and live the life of a real mountain man. Those were the thoughts going through my mind as we drove the miles back to the border.
That part of the Maine countryside is very scenic, with endless high hills, mountains really, and trees as far as the eye could see. It is the place of wilderness dreams and I was dreaming of a little log camp tucked away on the side of one of the distant hills…overlooking the mixed hardwood and softwood forests, pristine and quiet, and far away from the shopping malls…..and credit card bill collectors…..
Of course I had a little more than that on my mind, I also had the occasional thought that if we had to brake quickly, stop fast, the tons of purchases stuffed into the back of the van would probably flatten us like a tractor trailer tire crushes a squirrel on the asphalt….
Fortunately, my buddy Doug, you all remember Dougie, cottage carpenter, plumber, wharf builder extradonaire, is also an excellent van packer, and he managed to pack everything that we had bought into the Dodge Caravan. To be clear, I think he packed a tractor trailer load into a mini van….there was no doubt we were going inside to pay some duty at the border…..
All things considered, the shopping bargains, the cost of the trip, the little bit of customs HST at the border, etc, it was all worth it, and yes, I am a Black Friday convert….see you next year outside Walmart around midnight !!
Does anyone know where I can sign up for a sleigh ride over snow covered fields….at a deep discount?
- If You Go
A couple of things to keep in mind if you are thinking about going to Black Friday shopping next year:
1) Go shopping around home, read the sale flyers before you go. Get a good idea of what the prices are for items you are interested in before you go.
2) Pay attention to the dollar exchange rate. Right now it is pretty close to par, which is good.
3) Remember you will likely have to pay duty if you exceed your purchase exemption limits for the amount of time you stay in the U.S. It is a really good idea to stop at the Canadian border before you go over and find out for sure what the exemption limits are, etc, they have good publications you can pick up, and if you are not sure, ask the Canadian Border folks before you cross over.
4) Have your passports ready to show the border officers both on your entry into the United States and your return to Canada, have them out and ready to pass to the officer when he asks.
5) Don’t try to convince the Canadian Border Guard/Customs officer that you didn’t spend over your exemption limit. They are professionals, and know how to smell a lie, even a little fib. Tell them what you bought, and have the receipts to prove it. Be prepared to pay some taxes/duty, it is better than being fined, or even losing your purchases. You don’t want them to tell you to pull over so they can tear your vehicle apart for the sake of a little bit of tax, consider it the cost of being honest, and Canadian. Even if you do have to pay tax at the border upon your return, factor that in to what you paid for the item, in many cases it will still be cheaper. Remember liquor and tobacco is included in your exemption limit, so if you plan to bring back either, or both, remember that is coming off your exemption.
6) Have a list of things you are interested in buying, and stick to it as much as possible. It is easy to get mesmerized by all the products and the “low”prices and end up with more than you originally planned.
7) Make sure you have hotel/motel reservations confirmed long before you leave home. The lodgings really fill up quick, and it is almost impossible to find a place to stay without a reservation.
8) Places are closed on American Thanksgiving Day, so try to time your arrival so that you have someplace to stay when you arrive, otherwise you might have to hang around in the car until you can get into your hotel room, the stores are not open.
9) As you are buying things, be cognizant of the room you have in your vehicle. For example, there is no point in saving all kinds of money on a big screen television if you have no room for it in the vehicle. And shipping it home could be quite costly.
10) Have fun! Remember you are on a trip, a little shopping vacation. Don’t wear yourself out in the first day. Especially with the midnight shopping etc. It is easy to stay up all night shopping, and feel miserable the next day or so when the lack of sleep catches up on you. If you are not first in line for the store opening don’t panic, there are lot’s of stores, and not everything is grabbed up in the first 5 minutes. Besides, you can’t buy everything, sometimes it is good to go back to the hotel, have a shower, and turn in early. So take time to eat and rest, and relax. The bargains continue for several days, infact, in some stores they actually had even lower prices on the next day as they tried to get rid of any remaining stock.
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