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Laura Jarvi of Windsor, Ont., shops at the Great Lakes Crossing Outlets in Auburn Hills, Mich., on Black Friday. ((Eric Seals/Detroit Free Press/Associated Press) )

Huge discounts at U.S. stores are drawing Canadian shoppers across the border.

It's Black Friday in the U.S., when retailers kick off the Christmas season by slashing prices. Some U.S. chains moved their opening time back to late Thursday — the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday — to give early birds a running start.

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That means thousands of Ottawa-area shoppers braved the freezing rain and border lineups Friday morning to get a piece of the action.

Kirsten Maludzinski headed for the U.S. border with her family, heading for Syracuse, N.Y.

"I love getting the deal. I love it when you get to the cash and it's almost like a little surprise. They'll say 'oh it's 50 per cent off.' Then you get an additional 30 per cent off. And 'oh, it's your birthday,' you get an extra $5 off."

On the West coast, Lee Henderson is exhausted. He's with Vancouver's Westbrook Tours. and took dozens of international students across the border late Thursday.

"We got to the outlet malls at about 11:30 and all the stores were starting to open for their midnight sales," he said. The students disappeared into the crowds of shoppers. "I really didn't see many of them for about four hours."

In Windsor, Ont., Linda Moore drove her husband and friend to a football game in Detroit, and continued to shop. "I bought all kinds of Christmas stuff at half price," she said.

Cindy Bentlley likes the deals, too — and the fun.

Other shoppers said the selection is better south of the border, so buyers can find unusual items.

Aiming for profit

For U.S. retailers, Black Friday is the day they aim to get into the black, or make a profit for the year.

They are hoping that the deep discounts will convince penny-pinching American  consumers to open their wallets.

Toys "R" Us offered 50 per cent discounts on toys like Buzz Lightyear and Barbies.

TVs and tech items like Blu-ray players were also popular. Best Buy CEO Brian Dunn said the number of customers was up on Friday morning, compared with 2009.

The chain opened its doors earlier and offered more TVs. "I think both of these things helped," Dunn said. And people may be more inclined to buy presents for themselves — "self-gifting" — he said.

Marshal Cohen, chief retail analyst for market research firm NPD, estimated that shoppers bought 15 per cent of the purchases Friday for themselves, up from about nine per cent last year, but still below the 26 per cent in a typical year.

No bargain for Canadian retailers 

For the Retail Council of Canada, there is no joy in seeing Canadians take their business south.

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Hamid Ghadaki and his wife, Hedieh Ghanbari, both from Toronto, get some sleep on comfortable leather seats during Black Friday sales at Great Lakes Crossing Outlets. ((Eric Seals/The Detroit Free Press/Associated Press))

The council put out a news release giving six reasons to shop locally, ranging from supporting the hometown economy to easier returns to the fact that taxes support health care, education and road repairs.

Retailer Xia Wu took on the competition at her Ottawa fashion store, Baby Face. She had a half-price sale.

And the Canadian arms of big chains like Wal-Mart and Toys "R" Us threw their own sales. In Windsor, however, Moore is planning to go back to Detroit to do the second half of her Christmas shopping on Saturday.

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