BREWER, Maine — Busloads of Canadians, and others driving their own vehicles, rolled into the Bangor area for the incredible shopping bargains that are available the day after Thanksgiving, known as Black Friday.
For some of our neighbors to the north, heading to Maine for Christmas shopping is an annual tradition. Word about steep discounts enticed others to jump into their cars and drive here.
“We came specifically for Black Friday,” Kathy Defazio, 43, of St. John, New Brunswick, said while standing in a clothing isle at Marden’s on Wilson Street in Brewer. “This is our fourth or fifth year for Black Friday. We come down every year just for the deals.”
Next to her was her daughter April Defazio, 26, holding up a reversible winter jacket. The two women hit the Bangor Mall area — J.C. Penney, Kohl’s, Wal-Mart and others — for the early door-buster sales, available until around 1 p.m., then headed to Brewer.
“We’ve been everywhere and back again,” Kathy Defazio said.
The mother-daughter team said they ran into several of their friends while shopping in Bangor and Brewer.
“At one point I got squished up against someone and I turned around and it was my neighbor,” said April Defazio.
The two leave their husbands behind in Canada because they need the room in their vehicle for the items they buy.
“We never come without the truck,” Kathy Defazio said. “When we get to the border we will have a truckload.”
The women said they bought electronics, including a flat-screen TV, vacuum cleaners, clothes and other Christmas items.
The shopping day after Thanksgiving has been dubbed Black Friday because it is typically the day retail shops enter the black financially.
Friends of Virginia “Ginny” Michael, of Shubenacadie, Nova Scotia, told so many stories about the great deals that could be found in Maine on Black Friday that she and her husband, Colin, jumped into their vehicle and drove here.
“We heard laptops were really cheap,” she said. “Everything was really cheap.”
The couple said they arrived a day early to get a look at the sales fliers, available on Thursday, and will be driving home with a ton of items for their four children.
There is nothing similar to Black Friday in Canada, Michael said.
“I wish there was,” she said.
Retail stores all over the region saw an influx of Canadian shoppers, many of whom came by bus, Ray Brasslett, Marden’s store manager, said.
“We’ve had two so far,” he said at around 1 p.m. Friday. Busloads of Canadian shoppers arrive year-round at the salvage store, but are more frequent “in the fall and before the holidays,” he said.
The Canadian shopping buses don’t just stop at retail shops. They also hit area restaurants and oftentimes riders stay in hotels to rest up for the early-bird deals.
Chris Peoples, guest services agent for the Courtyard by Marriott on Sylvan Road in Bangor, said a majority of the guests at the newly opened 92-room facility are from the north.
“Most of our hotel is filled with Canadians, last night and tonight,” she said. “My guess is close to 75 percent are from Canada.”
The number was even higher at the Bangor Motor Inn & Conference Center on Hogan Road, said Dave Knappe, assistant manager of the 103-room motel.
“Almost everybody I have in-house” is from Canada, he said, “probably 85 to 90 percent of my guests. I have three Canadian shopping buses in town. They’re going all over. They went to Brewer today to catch Marden’s and the super Wal-Mart.”
Governor’s Restaurant on Broadway in Bangor prepares for Canadian shoppers by having additional staff on hand on Black Friday and by offering a breakfast buffet, which is typically available only on the weekends, said Amy Jarzabek, assistant manager.
“We plan for it every year,” she said. “There were two buses of Canadian shoppers that actually came in. We just started to slow down right now,” she said at 3 p.m.
The trip to the Bangor-Brewer area has two benefits for Giscle Mercier and Andre Fortin of Frontenac, Quebec. She loves to shop and he gets to visit his daughter and granddaughter, Marie and Blake McKenney, who live in Milford, he said.
“There [are] not too many places like this in Canada,” Mercier said in French as Marie McKenney interpreted. The trip from Frontenac is a “three-hour drive,” Fortin said, adding he’ll be back in Maine for Christmas.
Kathy Defazio said the shopping deals make the trip well worth it.
“It’s 26 bucks from St. John to Bangor” for gas money, she said. “So it’s a pretty good deal.”
“And, it’s fun,” her daughter added.