My cross-border shopping adventure in Bellingham, Wash., pales in comparison to the buying-frenzies undertaken by throngs of Canadians who filled their shopping carts on Black Friday.
Still, my haul of $76.05 (U.S.) in merchandise comprising two sets of ear bud headphones and an Xbox 360 Madden NFL 13 video game still managed to make the trip worthwhile. Not counting border waits, Bellingham is only a 70-minute drive from Vancouver, and I met many Canadians willing to make the trip, even in the pouring rain that came down on this year’s Black Friday on the West Coast.
The Globe and Mail sent me on assignment to help take the pulse of the U.S. consumer, and by extension, the broader economy.
After interviewing two American sisters, I decided to buy the first set of ear buds for $27.16 (including tax) from a sales rep named Josh Newman. What was my excuse for succumbing to the lure of shopping while on journalistic duty? I needed new ear buds for work since my old ones are getting frayed, and I wanted to transcribe my interview in relative peace in the food court at the Bellis Fair mall.
Mr. Newman, 23, had been unemployed for eight months until July, when he got a job unloading cargo from trucks, earning about $10 an hour. He quit that job two weeks ago to take a new position at Arch Telecom, which pays him Washington state’s minimum hourly wage of $9.04, plus commissions.
Mr. Newman initially said the ear buds would cost $35, but I told him I knew I could get a better deal at the nearby Best Buy Mobile outlet because another shopper I had interviewed talked about the bargains there.
With smooth confidence he said he’d sell them for $25, and I would also avoid the lineups elsewhere. I caved , and he got his commission. I later discovered at Best Buy Mobile that I could buy a different brand of headphones for $10.86, so I did that too, easing the buyer's remorse that welled up when I discovered I’d overpaid at Arch Telecom. We’re talking small savings here, but in the shopping frenzy, where everyone around me was bragging about getting 50, 60 and even 70 per cent off, I was in the minor leagues for snagging bargains. Still, I was beginning to understand the thrill of the hunt.
Freelance photographer Jeff Vinnick then drove us over to the standalone, big-box outlet of Best Buy, located near Bellis Fair.
I paid $38.03 for the Xbox video game, a savings of around $25. I chatted with the woman behind me in the lineup, and she got spiffy ear buds for $10 and boasted that she was a savvy shopper. Hey, I’m learning.
After a 25-minute wait at the Peace Arch border crossing, I declared the $76.05 in goods, and the border guard waved us through. There were no lineups when we drove into the United States at 4:15 a.m. on Friday, but the border guard said there were two-hour waits on Thursday night as British Columbians rushed to get to stores that opened at midnight.
When I lived in Toronto, cross-border shopping in Buffalo, N.Y., where the border lineups can take hours, was never worth the hassle.
Now that I live in Vancouver and I’ve discovered the bargains of nearby Bellingham, sticking exclusively to Canadian retailers will be a lot harder.
I realize it’s easy to get caught up in the madness and feel pressured to spend money. But hey, if The Globe sends me to cover Black Friday in 2013, even a small-scale shopper like me will succumb to the temptation of joining the hordes to see what all the fuss is about .