CONCORD, N.H. (AP) -- Pat Laplante barely had time to unpack from her latest cross-border shopping trip before hopping on another bus. A week after hitting the outlets in North Conway, she was heading from her home in Canada to northern Maine in search of Black Friday deals.
"I never have a list, never," she said. "No matter how many times you go, you keep saying to yourself, 'I don't need anything, I'm not going to buy anything.' That's a joke. My chances of coming home with nothing are nil."
Laplante, a retired telephone company worker from Halifax, Nova Scotia, often tags along with a friend who runs a tour bus company catering to shoppers. Last week, she was one of 50 women who snapped up jeans, hooded sweatshirts and sneakers at prices well below those at home.
"People say, 'I don't understand why don't you shop in your own country.'" she said. "I say, give me the deals and I might think about it. But it's not going to happen."
New Hampshire has long been a shopping destination because it has no sales tax, but there's a new twist this holiday shopping season: Since June, Canadian visitors shopping here have been able to return home with more duty-free goods thanks to increases in the duty-free allowances.
In June, the duty-free limit increased to $200 for those staying longer than 24 hours and to $800 for stays longer than 48 hours. The previous limits were $50 for overnight trips, $400 for trips of two to seven days and $750 for trips of more than a week.
Hoping to capitalize on the changes this weekend, The Bartlett Inn Bed and Breakfast in Bartlett offered a shopping package that included coupons for the Settler's Green outlet center in North Conway, a discount on room rates and "cookies and hot cider to enjoy while you wrap presents by the fire."
According to Statistics Canada, Canadian residents took a record 1.9 million overnight trips to the United States in June, though the number dropped in the following few months. But those figures might not accurately reflect the impact of the higher duty-free limits, said Douglas Porter, deputy chief economist with BMO Capital Markets. More telling will be spending statistics that aren't yet available, he said.
"I suspect what's happened is people who've made the trek to the U.S. might be staying a day or two longer to qualify for the new higher limit, or those who would've been making the trip in any event may just be spending more," he said. "I still firmly believe that it has led to a lot more spending, and I think it will show up in the third and fourth quarter numbers when we do get the data."
Mark Okrant, who researches tourism trends for the New Hampshire Division of Travel and Tourism, agrees.
"Anecdotal evidence indicates 2012 has been a blockbuster year for Canadian visitation thus far," he said.
Okrant, director of the Institute for New Hampshire Studies at Plymouth State University, expects that both the number of overnight visits and the total spent on shopping will be up substantially during 2012, and that the duty-free situation will have been a contributing factor.
That would be something of a turnaround from last year, when Okrant estimates that overnight shopping visits by Canadians to New Hampshire dropped 23 percent in 2011 compared with the previous year, and the total spent on shopping dropped from $8.8 million to $6.8 million.
Some of that money came from Charlene Edwards, who has been bargain shopping in New Hampshire for more than a decade.
At least twice a year, she and her husband drive from Halifax, Nova Scotia, to Bangor, Maine, down through Freeport and across to North Conway, where they stay at a hotel surrounded by outlet stores. From clothing and cosmetics to fishing gear and fine wine, they've bought a bundle over the years.
"You can just shop the whole mall right there and then keep going back to your hotel. It's great," said Edwards, 58, who works for her husband's real estate company. "The really big difference is the price, and the tax."
Edwards, who grew up in Michigan, said while she plans to continue her annual trips, it's not just shopping that lure her over the border. She has become a big fan of golfing and hiking in the White Mountains.
"If I ever go home again, that's where I'm moving to," she said. "I love New Hampshire."
- Travel & Tourism
- North Conway