Cross border shopping, or: “Welcome to New York, here is your free coffee”


One of my favorite activities, I’ll admit it. Even when I don’t buy anything. (Ironically, it’s NOT generally something I prioritize when travelling, unless it’s really rainy and I really can’t find anything to do). Having grown up spending summers with friends who reside with the US-Canada border in their backyards, American stores are nothing new and novel to me, and I’m pretty adept in Plattsburgh and Burlington; and even more adept at bringing things back duty-free under the 24-hour leave requirement.

We headed south from Brossard, and actually managed to hit the giant Lacolle border crossing when there was NO TRAFFIC. Since we’ve decided to do some NY day and weekend tripping come August, we stopped at the first rest area to stock up on brochures, like my 8 year old self loved to do. And to receive our complimentary coffee. Any state that gives me free caffeine upon entry wins bonus marks.

So, onto Plattsburgh and it’s retail centres. Champlain Mall= so-so. I prefer Church Street Marketplace and University Mall in Burlington, as far as diversity and choice go. Also, I kind of find the ambiance in this mall a touch dreary. The saving grace? Target. We also managed to locate a Yankee Dollar, Wal-Mart,  and Bed, Bath & Beyond near the mall, which made up for Champlain Centre’s lack of… anything, really.

I personally realized I’m pushing 30 when I didn’t come back with a trunkload of clothes, but rather: 2 books and a bottle of root beer extract (seriously, I’ve looked in tonnes of specialty baking stores in the Montreal area, to no avail… and found it in stock at the Wal-Mart in NY?!)

My friend bought slightly more than I did, so the tricky border crossing back into Canada loomed ahead. Things I’ve learned over time: 

1. Use the smaller, less frequented border crossings (a la Morses’ Line) and avoid the larger ones (a la Phillipsburg and Lacolle). If you’re crossing through LaColle, a 5 minute detour will allow you to cross at the tiny, little Champlain crossing. They tend to be more relaxed at smaller crossings, and willing to overlook 50$ worth of purchases. 

2. Cross when it’s raining. I kid you know, last summer driving back to Franklin from Plattsburgh, we were waved through without stopping as it it was pouring rain and the crossing provided the agent with no shelter.

3. Make your car look lived in. A few beach items, a baby seat, some toys strewn about makes it less suspicious that there’s a new toy and tshirt on the floor of the back of your car.

4. Ditch the bags, hide the receipts. Seriously, keep the receipts. If you do get caught, it will make your life a lot easier. 

5. Declare something. Look, Customs agents aren’t stupid. If you were in Plattsburgh for 5 hours, they know you were shopping. Declare some of your purchases. Otherwise, you’re just asking for it.

6. Stay overnight and do this the legit way?

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