Cross-border shopping has always mystified me.
The relentless pursuit of an incredible deal, while appealing to my inner miser, just sounds exhausting. To me, shopping should not be a blood sport.
Growing up in suburban Toronto, I spent no time in our closest U.S. city. I heard about Buffalo, N.Y. in two ways: through the bragging of friends whose deal-mad parents regularly drove the clan south, and through the broadcast news that filtered across geographical lines on our airwaves.
But I never learned just why on Earth someone would want to drive two hours in each direction, a trip almost inevitably lengthened by delays at the border, just to bring home a marked-down Coach purse like a huntsman's trophy.
Needless to say, when The Globe and Mail asked me to go to Buffalo in the middle of the night to cover the Black Friday frenzy, I was skeptical about whether I'd see any deals that would convince me the drive south was worth it. Would I get caught up in the madness and change my mind? Heading into the United States at 1 a.m., I decided to check my biases at the border and do my best to keep an open mind.
All right. So I admit it. I met one couple who made it all seem, maybe, worthwhile. Cleveland, 22, and Devonte, 20, were buying a television for their house and I watched them get a 50-inch Samsung for $500 less than the nearly $1,200 it usually goes for. That's not peanuts. I'll give you that one, cross-border fiends.
But here's the catch: the two of them had to wait for 10 and a half hours, in one place. (They began their vigil at 5:30 p.m. with a camping chair they brought along for the occasion.) Why? There were only 13 sets available at that price. And Target made them available for sale only at 4 a.m.
Let's price that out: These guys made nearly 48 bucks an hour sitting there. (Split between two of them to make the time more bearable, that's 24 dollars per chap.) Not bad. But if we were to transfer that to myself, I'd have to be certain I would get that deal for it to be worthwhile. Then, to pass muster, I'd have to honestly say that I was intending to buy the same TV for the full price; otherwise I can't view that as true savings. If I know that I could probably be happy with a more frugal choice, then why spend the resources of time in lieu of money I might not spend?
Ultimately, it comes down to one question: Would I pay $500 not to sit in a Target under fluorescent lights listening to Christmas music for 10 hours while holiday sales raged around me? Yes, I believe I would.
Sorry, Cleveland and Devonte. I admire your stalwart pursuit of your goal. I admire your sheer thrift and determination. I admire Devonte's willingness to continue to charm his partner at 3:30 in the morning, saying that even though this was their first anniversary as a couple, he didn't mind sitting in a Target because he was sitting beside the person he loves.
But I'm still pretty sure I'd pony up the cash.
As for the Canadians I met, some were there for the deals. But some were there just for the road trip, the adventure. "We are just one small part of our group," said two girls from Port Colborne, Ont. They had driven over the border at 1:30 in the morning and had been up for nine hours hence shopping away. They did not really care what they found. It was just about getting out and having fun.
There's no accounting for taste. A crowded mall in the Christmas shopping season? Doesn't look like much fun to me. I'm still mystified. But having faced a Best Buy parking lot at 3 in the morning, at the very least I have to admire the quality that unites so many of these shoppers, and the quality I most certainly lack: patience. A virtue, and a money-saver. Maybe.