Monday, 28 October 2013

I went to Black Friday and survived

Before last year I had never done one of these cross border shopping extravaganza trips and never really had the desire to road trip solely for the purpose of consumerism either.  Well, that all changed when one of my friends suggested that we embark on a sleepless all-night shopping extravaganza.  And if you've been reading this blog, you've probably already figured out that I don't just dip my toe into an experience, I cannonball. So an all-night cross-border shopping adventure seemed like the perfect introduction to outlet shopping in the U.S. of A. 

Black Friday is the unofficial holiday in the United States that occurs the day after Thanksgiving. For many people it kicks off the beginning of the Christmas shopping season with a BANG! And it's no wonder with all of those advertised bargains.  

Our first stop was the Fashion Outlets in Buffalo for their 12:00AM opening.  Legally shops can't be open on Thanksgiving Day, so they have to wait until midnight to open their doors.  We arrived at the Fashion Outlets to discover a very full parking lot (expected), line ups wrapping around the outside of the building and an outdoor concert.  I've never seen so many people getting pumped to go shopping.  

This being my first Black Friday experience, I wasn't sure what to expect.  i had seen the videos on television of crowds of people racing for the latest gadget and clawing over each other for the best deal so I was a little afraid of what I might be getting myself into.  If you don't know what I'm talking about, here's a peek.   But as the doors opened at midnight, there was no madness.  Patrons filed into the plaza in a controlled and orderly fashion.  Some bee-lined straight for their favourite shops (the line outside Michael Kors was ridiculous, who needs a purse that badly?), others calmly walked around scoping out each vendor and some, mainly me, were totally overwhelmed by the rush of consumerism. How about we go to the right?  Ok, let's start there. 

After about 4 hours at the Fashion Outlets we headed over to the Walden Galleria.  The sales weren't as spectacular as at the outlets as these are regular priced stores.  But the Best Buy and the Macy's were offering some pretty serious discounts at some ungodly hours.  

By the time we had wrapped up our shopping at the Walden Galleria, the sun had started to rise and we still hadn't slept.  We were exhausted and still had one more shopping location we wanted to check out, so we thought we'd take a quick nap in the car before continuing on our journey.  In case you've never tried it, napping in a car in a crowded parking lot during daylight is not the most pleasant of experiences, especially on a brisk November day. After about an hour of shut eye and some flap jacks we hit the road again and headed for Grove City Pennsylvania.

Grove city is an outdoor outlet mall and is largely popular because there is no state tax in Pennsylvania.  By the time we arrived it was already late morning and the initial rush had subsided.  We could now shop at a more leisurely pace. Which was good, because when you're that tired that's pretty much the only pace at which things occur.  

My suggestions for you if you decide to embark on a similar adventure: Leave your coat in the car.  The malls are hot and your coat will only be cumbersome.  Pack water and snacks.  Seriously, you'll get really thirsty (shopping is like exercise: your heart rate increases and you sweat) and the line ups at the food court can be ridiculous.  Have a list before you go.  The whole experience can be very overwhelming and stressful.  If you at least go prepared with a list, it'll help you to manage your time and keep you focused on the reasons you're there without getting too side tracked by bright yellow signs. And if you see something you like, just grab it.  Don't hesitate! If you turn you're attention for only a second it could be gone.  Some of those shoppers are like ninjas.  

And here's my biggest tip: do something that's not about shopping.  If you're only out of the country for less than 24hrs, there are NO tax exemptions.  If you're out for 24hrs or more than you have a $200 allowance.  But if you're across the border for 48hrs or more you have an $800 allowance.  And if you're heading over for Black Friday shopping, chances are you're looking to pick up a heap of stuff, so the extra allowance is nice.  So spend a night in a hotel and do some touring.  You deserve it after ticking all those gifts off your Christmas shopping list.  

On this trip we decided to explore Fallingwater.   If you're an architecture buff, then you already know about Frank Lloyd Wright and you've likely already studied, read about or seen photos of Fallingwater.  And if you're a shopping enthusiast, this home was built for the Kaufmann's who were the original owners of Macy's and the tour gives you a glimpse into what their lives were like.  This tour also has something for you if you're one of those outdoorsy kind of people as much of it's design is focused on incorporating its beautiful natural surroundings.  But if you don't fall into any of these categories, I still think the visit would be enjoyable and a really nice break from shopping.  There are some really interesting and innovative features in this house. You know, like the fact that it's a house built on a waterfall. 

So there you have it.  Your Christmas shopping is done, you've spent some quality time with friends and you got a mini vacation in there.  It's totally worth one sleepless night.