Canadians shoppers from Ottawa and the surrounding region are flocking to Syracuse, N.Y. in unprecedented numbers since restrictions on cross-border shopping were loosened in June.


Omar Dabaghi-Pacheco. (CBC)

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Retailers in Syracuse are gearing up for more business this weekend in anticipation of Black Friday, the day after the American Thanksgiving and the biggest shopping day of the year across the United States.

Many businesses will open at midnight tonight at one of America's busiest malls in Syracuse, New York, where the old Carousel Center has been expanded and rebranded as Destiny USA.

The preparations come in anticipation of an expected flood of business, particularly from Canadian shoppers.

In June the federal government loosened cross-border shopping limits for Canadians, allowing Canadians returning from a 24-hour trip to spend $200 at the duty-free shop, four times the previous $50 limit. For a 48-hour absence, shoppers can legally cross the border with $800 worth of goods, double the previous limit. The changes were made as part of the 2012 federal budget.

The change appears to have made a difference on the shopping habits of Canadians coming from eastern Ontario.

Ogdensberg crossings up 50%

Border crossings from Ogdensberg back into Canada were up nearly 50 per cent from June to the end of September this year compared with the same time frame a year earlier — from 208,824 to 301,276 people.

More Canadians paid duties and taxes on purchases at the Ogdensburg crossing, though the amount they paid in duties declined. (see map below)

At the busier Thousand Islands border crossing, there were slightly fewer border crossings, but far more people paid duties. In total, border crossings at the two points of entry were up five per cent, the number of people who paid duties was up 28.5 per cent and the amount of duty paid rose 15 per cent.

Lifelong Syracuse resident Mary Kate Hartmann said she's noticed the change, and said finding a parking spot has become more difficult.

"Everywhere I looked I would see the license plates, and it was Ontario, Ontario, Ontario, maybe Pennsylvania, New York, Ontario, Ontario, Ontario," said Hartmann.

Shoppers staying longer

Hartmann's not complaining, as shopping is driving a boom that's spilling over into other venues in Syracuse, including the Landmark Theater where she works.

The recently renovated theatre can now handle Broadway productions, and Hartmann said Canadian visitors bought about 30 per cent of the tickets to the recent showing of Jersey Boys.

Robert Ataman, visiting the city from Gatineau, said he was planning to stay a few days to see the city, but also shop.

"I'm sure we'll be saving at least 25 to 30 per cent on what we're looking for, for the kids and if we find things for us," said Ataman.

David Holder, the president of the Syracuse Visitors Bureau, said the surge in visits has helped pull the city out of recession.

"I think we are bouncing back in large part because of the generosity of our Canadian neighbours coming down and paying visits here. And we're incredibly thankful for it," said Holder.

View Cross-border traveller statistics in a larger map

With files from the CBC's Evan Dyer and Omar Dabaghi-Pacheco