* U.S. Black Friday sales spread to Canada
* Shoppers line up early in downtown Toronto
By Allison Martell
TORONTO, Nov 23 (Reuters) - Two hundred shoppers were in line to snag a free C$10 ($10) gift card as Toronto’s downtown Eaton Centre opened at 6 a.m. (1100 GMT) on Friday, and some said they had been waiting for two hours.
While the early bird crowd would have been a disappointment at any major U.S. shopping center, it was new for Canada, which celebrates Thanksgiving in October and usually sees its best sales after Christmas.
Several shoppers said they wanted to be part of Canada’s first Black Friday. Indeed, the sales went mainstream last year, when nearly all major retailers ran some kind of promotion, although traffic was modest.
Fotini Kourakos, 21, did her research and arrived with a plan. She has been to Black Friday sales in Canada before, but sees something different this year.
“This is the first year that they’re stepping up their game, and they are actually doing bigger and better sales,” she said. “They want to keep people in Canada.”
Kourakos, a student, was one of about 130 people waiting outside Michael Kors Holding Ltd’s store by its 7 a.m. opening, in what looked to be the only significant line for a specific retailer.
Sluggish growth, tough competition and Canadians’ habit of crossing the border to the United States to shop has driven the spread of Black Friday promotions in Canada, though not all chains brand the sales “Black Friday.”
Sabrina Chan, 34, arrived at 4:30 a.m. A regular cross-border shopper, she headed south just last week, and could not justify another trip.
“I wanted to check out what Black Friday has to offer at the Eaton Centre,” she said. “I‘m just going to walk around, because I don’t know what to expect.”
A handful of tenants, including Sears Canada Inc and Best Buy Co Inc opened at 6 a.m., and by 7 a.m., almost all of the mall’s clothing retailers were open. Early morning traffic was on par with that of a regular weekday evening.
Several apparel retailers were clearing fall inventory. These included Canadian Tire Corp Ltd’s Mark’s clothing store, which had items like winter coats discounted by 50 percent, on top of a store-wide 30 percent mark down.
There were also lines at Lime Ridge Mall in nearby Hamilton, Ontario, only a 45 minute drive from the U.S. border. Like the Eaton Centre, it is run by commercial real estate heavyweight Cadillac Fairview, which advertised early openings across the province. Marketing manager Nicole Young said the publicity brought in big crowds.
Young said there were more than 100 people outside Hudson’s Bay Co’s Hudson’s Bay department store when it opened, and a line for Walt Disney Co’s Disney Store that stretched for two hours after it opened.
“Some of the retailers right now are saying that they had a fantastic morning, they’ve already reached their goals for the day,” she said at around 11 a.m.
National chains that run sales across Canada have also brought Black Friday deals to markets further from the border.
Sears started its sales on Thursday. Mark Molnar, general manager of a Sears store in Edmonton, Alberta, said some winter coats were marked down 60 percent: “That, people got really excited about. Because we need more than one winter coat here,” he said, alluding to Edmonton’s famously chilly winters.
Back at the Eaton Centre, John Prokopos, 21, had arrived at about 6:00 a.m., planning to check out the electronics on offer and pick up some gifts.
He thought better discounts were offered in the United States, but on the bright side, “If the sales aren’t that crazy, people aren’t likely to over-react to them and hurt each other.”