Lure Of Canada: Favorable exchange rate brings Americans across the border.
Residents of Detroit and Windsor, its Canadian neighbor to the south, have long enjoyed a close relationship on many levels — entertainment, shopping, dining out.
Before the 9-11 terrorist attack, it was common for Downtown Detroit office workers to have lunch in Windsor and suburbanites often visited the Canadian city to shop, eat at an ethnic restaurant or try their luck at the casino.
After 9-11, long backups sometimes occurred at the two Detroit-Windsor border crossings as security ratcheted up. Quick, fun trips to Canada were no longer so appealing.
“Before 9-11, 30 percent of our customers were from the U.S.; after, it dropped to 10 to 12 percent,” said Dan Orman, co-owner of Freed’s, a popular clothing store in downtown Windsor for 86 years.
But, in recent years, traffic flow has improved, based on reports from individuals who travel to Windsor regularly and official websites that track border crossing times. Orman says he commutes to Windsor from his West Bloomfield home in about 30-35 minutes as long as it’s not rush hour.
But it’s the favorable currency exchange rate that is once again luring more U.S. citizens to Canada.
Allan Gale of West Bloomfield, who frequently visits Windsor for shopping and entertainment, says the exchange rate just adds more pleasure to visits.
Now that the American dollar is worth between $1.29 to $1.43 Canadian, there is a real financial incentive to visit Windsor, even with Canada’s higher sales taxes of 13 percent versus 6 percent in Michigan.
Andrew Tepperman, co-owner and president of Tepperman’s, a family-owned furniture and electronics business with six stores in Ontario, says there has been a “massive” increase in American shoppers.
“It has been decades since the exchange rate was that great,” he said. He explains that the cost of a Tepperman’s sofa in 2011 was $698 CDN. An American shopper would ha
ve paid US $769 for the sofa then, but only US $481 today.
While Tepperman’s doesn’t deliver in the U.S., he says that American shoppers often purchase items such as a flat-screen TV or ottoman that can fit in a car. The store has been in business for 90 years, Tepperman says, and the owners know how to vary the merchandise and pricing to work best with the exchange rate, which is posted by the cashier.
Joan Shanfield Melnick owns Shanfields-Meyers, a family business in Windsor established 79 years ago. Since 1946, Shanfields-Meyers has occupied a large downtown showroom and store filled with discounted china including discontinued patterns, silverware, crystal, jewelry and other gift items. Melnick offers a special 5 percent discount to university students and stresses that all of her merchandise is new, which she said is important to those purchasing items for a kosher kitchen.
ed closing the store after her parents died, but decided to keep it open because Internet sales were strong and she thought some of her grandchildren might be interested in working there eventually.
“Eighty-five percent of our business is from the U.S., with 65 percent of sales through the Internet,” she said.
Orman, co-owner of Freed’s with his cousin Ari Freed, has seen a significant increase in American shoppers in recent months as the exchange rate has reached as high as $1.43. He notes that Internet purchases are not subject to sales taxes, and shipping is waived for purchases of more than $100.
Orman cites the wide selection of favorably priced foreign and Canadian fashion brands as another reason to shop there.
The popular Canada Goose brand women’s coat, which he compares to North Face, has the same retail price range of $695-$845 as at Nordstrom, but U.S. customers save on the exchange rate, plus Freed’s will ship the coat to U.S. customers tax- and duty-free — for as much as a 43 percent savings.
The cost of a quality man’s suit for less than in Detroit also lures some shoppers to Freed’s. For example, a Jack Victor suit retails for $695 in the U.S., Orman says, while Freed’s sells two Victor suits for $610 American.
Melnick says her store is one of the last Jewish retailers located in downtown Windsor. According to Andrew Tepperman, there were 10 home furnishings stores in downtown Windsor during the 1960s, but now Tepperman’s is the only one in this category.
“Windsor had a vibrant downtown, but there was a shift to big stores and malls with free parking. Also, people shop when they
travel or they buy online,” said Jay Katz, executive director of the Windsor Jewish Community Centre. He says that Windsor’s Jewish population is 1,500 and has been stable for 10 years.
Saving on purchases isn’t the only reason to shop in Windsor, Gale says. He enjoys a range of brands and products that are not readily available in Metro Detroit, such as specialty foods at the Real Canadian Superstore.
“They have so much food that is different — so many kinds of yogurt, good-quality salmon, kosher food and Montreal smoked meat,” Gale said. He also likes to visit Malic’s Deli for corned beef and pastrami sandwiches; it dates from 1929 and was originally Jewish-owned. Blak’s Bakery is another of his favorites for its many types of rye bread, including a marble rye that Jerry Seinfeld purchased while in Windsor.
Gale recommends Windsor’s ethnic restaurants including the Mini (Vietnamese) and Italian restaurants on Via Italia, the city’s Little Italy section.
In addition, Windsor has a kosher restaurant and caterer, Mazal Tov Kosher Cuisine, located in the lobby of Windsor’s Jewish senior citizen residence. The restaurant opened 18 years ago and owner Mazal Rabi says, “American Jewish customers have been very loyal.”
She has seen a definite increase in American customers since the Canadian dollar lost 25 to 30 percent of its value.The restaurant is open five days a week and has a meat menu with many parve dishes. The Council of Orthodox Rabbis of Greater Detroit provides kosher supervision. A buffet is held on the first Sunday of every month.
“Our restaurant is heimishe,” Rabi said. “Customers feel like they’re in their own home. It’s a nice atmosphere.”
Airfare, college tuition and gambling in Canada may also be more appealing with the current exchange rate. Gale travels to Windsor for international flights, which can be much less expensive than flights originating in the Detroit area. He cites a recent $700 round-trip flight to Israel.
The exchange rate may also be a factor in an uptick in applications to the University of Windsor from American students. Officials cite a 42 percent increase in applications — 64 compared to 45 last year. The university charges U.S. $11,600 for annual tuition for American students, a special rate initiated four years ago, and now recruits actively in Michigan.
Even gamblers can benefit from the cheaper American dollar when they visit Windsor’s casino. “It seems your money goes slower as you are risking Canadian dollars that cost about $.70 U.S. to convert,” Gale said.
Caesars Windsor’s public/community relations specialist Susan Tompkins confirms that business has increased during the past year as Americans take advantage of the exchange rate to “stretch their entertainment dollar.” *
— Shari Cohen, Contributing Writer
TIPS FOR TRAVELERS, SHOPPERS
While traffic backups are rare during non-rush-hour border crossings, Allan Gale of West Bloomfield recommends that visitors avoid the trip on Saturday nights when traffic is heavier because American young adults often visit Windsor bars and the casino. Unlike the U.S., Canada’s legal drinking and gambling age is 19. For many Detroiters, a trip to Windsor to celebrate a 19th birthday is a rite of passage.
U.S. Customs regulations allow visitors who stay in Canada less than 48 hours to bring back $200 in duty-free merchandise. That means a car with four American visitors could bring back $800 duty-free.
Not all Canadian food items are allowed in the U.S. Processed foods, bakery items and some cheeses are generally permissible. Fresh fruits and vegetables are not allowed.
BORDERS & CASH
• Canadian-American exchange rates are available at www.xe.com and
• Border crossing traffic information is available at dwtunnel.com and
EAT & SHOP
• Blak’s Bakery, 1022 Langlois Ave., famous for 20 varieties of rye bread, (519) 253-4344. (blaksbakery.com)
• Detroit/Windsor Tunnel Amex Duty Free Shop, specials are advertised at www.tunneldutyfree.com.
• Devonshire Mall, Windsor’s primary mall. (devonshiremall.com)
• Freed’s, 1526 Ottawa St., men’s and women’s clothing and accessories, (519) 258-6532. (freeds.com)
• Malic’s Deli, 543 Wyandotte St., (519) 252-3886
• Mazal Tov Kosher Cuisine, kosher restaurant and caterer located in the lobby of Peretz House, 1653 Ouellette Ave. Reservations preferred, (519) 252-0221.
• Shanfields-Meyers, 188 Ouellette Ave., a large china, silverware, jewelry and gift store, (519) 253-6098. (shanfields.net)
• Tepperman’s, 2595 Ouellette Ave., store with furniture, appliances, electronics and mattresses, (519) 969-3063. (teppermans.com)
PLACES TO VISIT
• Caesars Windsor, casino and hotel, 377 Riverside Drive East (www.casesars.com/casesars-windsor)
• Canadian Club Heritage Center, 2072 Riverside Drive East, tour the historic building, followed by a whiskey tasting. (519) 973-9503.