Sun, Nov 25, 2007 - Page 11 News List

Tourists fly in for Black Friday bargains

COMING TO AMERICA Shoppers from Ireland, England and Canada are among those to have taken advantage of the weak dollar to go on retail spending sprees


Glenn Branney didn't go to the US last week for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, the Empire State Building or Central Park.

The 31-year-old tourist from Northern Ireland came to shop.

First, the Apple store, where he bought an iPod Touch and iPod Nano. Then Macy's, where he snatched up a bundle of coats, belts and wallets.

Branney was just one of many Europeans who descended on New York at the weekend to partake in the post-Thanksgiving shopping scrum and take advantage of a very weak dollar.

Their economic presence was being felt all over the city as the powerful British pound surged to more than US$2 and the dollar hit a new low against the mighty euro -- which was trading at a record US$1.4966 on Friday.

Ed Schmults, CEO of toy retailer FAO Schwarz, estimated that foreigners will make up about one third of customers at the flagship Fifth Avenue store this holiday season, compared to about 25 percent last year.

The retailer started selling duffel bags for US$20 last week at the Manhattan location to help tourists carry their purchases.

"They needed something for the loot," he said.

Like Branney, Alex Watson, 17, and Amy Thompson, 18, timed their visit from Liverpool, England to coincide with deep discounts offered on the day after Thanksgiving.

The two young women were also in a buying frenzy, loaded down with several expensive purses and beauty products as they surveyed Macy's tempting shelves.

"I love it," Thompson said. "It's amazing," Alex concurred.

Over on Fifth Avenue at the Circuit City, Ashlee Clifford, 26, of Northern Ireland clutched a Nintendo game system and a fraying list of items -- requests from friends after Clifford told them she'd be in the US for Black Friday.

"Everything is half price for us," Clifford said, referring to the buying power of her own currency. "It's absolutely madness."

Back at Macy's, Branney was showing no signs of fatigue, even after his visit to the Apple store. He had spent Thanksgiving resting so he'd be at full shopping strength, getting up at 4am to hit the stores.

Branney said he intended to spend about US$2,000.

"Maybe more," he said. "Who knows?"

Canadians have always been regulars at the sprawling Walden Galleria, a 10-minute drive from the border in upstate New York, but they've been an all-out shopping force since the "loonie" hit parity with the US dollar in September.

On Friday, with the Canadian dollar at US$1.01, there appeared to be equal numbers of cars with Canadian and New York plates stalking departing shoppers for their parking spaces.

One of three signs on a rack of girls' tops instructed shoppers to take an extra 20 percent off. The others knocked 40 percent off the original price and 15 percent off for using a Macy's card.

"Is that 75 percent off?" Gina Vieira asked. "Well then I'll just take the rack!"

She didn't, of course, but the Canadian and her 10-year-old daughter were in the mall -- heck, they were in the country -- for one reason on this Black Friday.

"We'll shop 'til we drop and probably have a nap in the car before our two-hour drive home," said Vieira, from Toronto.

Both said variety not seen at home was as appealing as the low prices.

"It's incredibly overwhelming. You just want everything and before you know it, you've run out of money and now you're on the credit card and then your friends' credit cards," Vieira laughed.

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