The holiday season will officially start this week when thousands of Black Friday shoppers descend on Havre stores to purchase Christmas gifts.
A special group of about 25 shoppers will be coming to Havre for what has become a holiday tradition.
The women come from as far away as Vancouver. For five years, they have gathered in Canada and come across the border to start their “power shopping. ”
The group — ages 18 to 85 — will stay at TownHouse Inn of Havre. They will check in on Thursday and shop throughout the weekend, going home on Monday.
"They will shop at Havre stores on Friday," said Scott Schroeder, the assistant manager at TownHouse Inn.
They will check out the sales at various stores and begin their Christmas shopping early Friday morning, he said. "Sometimes some of them go to Great Falls on Saturday, others stay in Havre."
The hotel gives them copies of local newspapers with ads and coupons, and they will be given gift certificates from area stores, he said.
“We’d rather come to Havre than to Disneyland, ” said one of the women, who asked that her name not be used for fear of offending Canadian merchants. “Havre people have been tremendous to us. ”
Some women get up as early as 6 a. m. so they can get back across the Wild Horse port by the 5 p. m. closing time, she said.
The first stop is usually at the Duck Inn, where they celebrate American Thanksgiving with a turkey dinner.
Then they stop at Walmart at midnight.
“It’s as much a social gathering as anything, “ she said. “But we will do a lot of power shopping. ”
The women will be wearing T-shirts with the phrase “Canada, eh. ”
Kim Springer, the Estee Lauder counter manager at Herberger’s Department Store, has seen the size of the group getting larger over the years.
The group celebrates the weekend with games, gift exchanges and lots of shopping.
"We know them on a first-name basis," Springer said.
But this crowd will only be the tip of the iceberg, she said.
Canadians are making up a bigger and bigger share of the market, she said. On the day after Thanksgiving last year, "the store was full of Canadians," she said.
Springer said that because her counter is near the front door, she often sees the visitors first.
“We are on a first-name basis with many of them, ” she said.
"They tell me they could go to Great Falls, but most of them are happy shopping in Havre," she said.
Herberger’s and other stores are looking forward to serving a large number of Canadians this weekend.
"Prices are so much cheaper here than in Canada," said Jamey McDaniel, manager of Walmart of Havre.
He predicts a large number of Canadians will be in town throughout the Christmas season.
Food prices are especially less expensive, he said.
"The first of every month we see a lot of Canadians," he said. "And there are a lot during the Christmas season."
Since the price of gas has gone down on both sides of the border, people are more than willing to make the trek, he said.
The Canadian trade is vital to the Havre economy, said Mayor Tim Solomon.
“You can see a lot of Canadian license plates in the parking lots, ” he said.
The more favorable exchange rate encourages more Canadians to come to town, he said.
The mayor said he will continue his efforts to get hours extended at the Wild Horse port to make it easier for Canadians to come back and forth.