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Retailers enjoy strong Boxing Day

Predawn boxing day bargain hunters load their big screen tv into a cab in front of the Hearland Best Buy store in Mississauga, Dec 26, 2012.

J.P. MOCZULSKI/Toronto

Daniel Yepes knew he'd be bagged by the end of Boxing Day – but it wasn't shopping that would do him in.

The 21-year-old was booked to spend six hours shirtless at a downtown Toronto outlet of Abercrombie & Fitch, estimating that he would tense his abs "thousands" of times as he posed with a seemingly endless stream of young women.

"I'm tired, for sure," he said about halfway through his day. "It's a lot of flexing."

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He and a female model helped distinguish the store in the crowded Eaton Centre, where retailers who had discounted heavily in the lead-up to Christmas had little room to slash prices even further. A recent survey suggested nearly two-thirds of Canadians were planning to shop on Boxing Day. According to the Bank of Montreal, Alberta was expected to lead the way, with 76 per cent of the survey's respondents planning to shop Wednesday, while Quebec residents were the most likely to stay home, the survey found.

On the actual day, the results across the country were mixed, with electronics stores and name-brand retailers aimed at youth seeming to fare best.

A Future Shop in downtown Toronto had the longest lineup at any of the chain's outlets across Canada, a company spokesman said, with up to 800 waiting by the time the doors opened. At a Best Buy in the same area, some people lined up through the chilly night to be among the first into the store.

In Burnaby, B.C., the parking lots were jammed with people, many of them so frustrated they flooded police with complaints. The RCMP eventually tweeted a request that drivers stop tying up emergency lines with trivial problems.

A chilly wind was blowing Wednesday in downtown Montreal but shoppers thronging the retail area made it feel as though a festival was on. At the flagship Linen Chest bedding and home décor store, manager Roseline Paré said shopping was "going very well," better than last year. "You tend to get more buying of things for the home – for cocooning – in times of economic difficulty," she said.

As on previous Boxing Days, security guards were hired to help with crowd control at the Future Shop on Ste-Catherine Street and the back-store delivery dock was pressed into service as an exit for shoppers. Walter Chacon, a drugstore supervisor, purchased a wi-fi Blu-ray player for about $80 that usually retails for nearly double that. Another customer scored an LG 47-inch television screen for $750 with tax, about 20 per cent off the regular cost.

Although Boxing Day is often referred to as the busiest shopping day of the year, retailers have risked undermining its appeal by cutting prices before Christmas as well. But brand loyalty and good deals were still enticing bargain hunters across the country. Although retailers who opened early on a posh section of Toronto's Bloor Street were rewarded with a modest turnout, the malls were notably busier.

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Cars were pouring into the parking lot at suburban Yorkdale mall before dawn, and many thousands of people turned up at the downtown Eaton Centre, where a handful of police kept watch for troublemakers. Some stores were far more crowded than others. And the Apple store, which wasn't discounting anything, was among the most popular in the city-centre mall, though a clerk said the crowd was not necessarily shopping. "A lot are just Facebooking," he said.

In Vancouver, moderate crowds kept downtown businesses busy but manageable. Few street-entry stores had lineups going out the door – Coach, Lacoste and The North Face were some that did – possibly due to light rainfall throughout the day.

Around noon, the busiest retailer appeared to be the Adidas store on Granville Street, where Burnaby's Michelle Liao was one of about 50 people lining up outside. She said she was happy to wait to get into her favourite retailers, despite not knowing the deals in-store. "If there's a lineup, there must be something good," she said.

It appeared many other downtown shoppers took shelter inside Pacific Centre mall, where the crush was comparable to the pre-Christmas December rush. People were often shoulder-to-shoulder navigating the shopping centre; several stores, such as popular retailer Aritzia, had lengthy lineups.

At Calgary's Market Mall, a suburban centre which hosts one of the city's two Apple stores, shoppers queued for clothing rather than electronics. About 40 to 100 people showed up early, said Paige O'Neill, the mall's general manager. With mall lines relatively calm, security was dispatched to the parking lot to keep traffic under control.

"Boxing Day has become Boxing Month over the last number of years, so if shoppers don't want to battle the crowds, the deals will still be there and possibly get better," Ms. O'Neill said.

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Across town, management at Chinook Centre, home to Calgary's other Apple outlet, expected about 100,000 people to hit the mall on Boxing Day, about the same as last year's record crowds, according to spokesperson Stacie Woolford.

In Ottawa, the manager of NRML, a downtown "streetwear" store, said customers started lining up outside at 4 a.m. when the thermometer was registering –14. "It hasn't really slowed down since," Naj Peterson said.

With reports from Gloria Galloway in Ottawa, Carrie Tait in Kimberley, B.C., Andrea Woo in Vancouver and The Canadian Press

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About the Authors

Oliver Moore joined the Globe and Mail's web newsroom in 2000 as an editor and then moved into reporting. A native Torontonian, he served four years as Atlantic Bureau Chief and has worked also in Afghanistan, Grenada, France, Spain and the United States. More

Quebec Business Correspondent

Bertrand has been covering Quebec business and finance since 2000. Before joining The Globe and Mail in 2000, he was the Toronto-based national business correspondent for Southam News. He has a B.A. from McGill University and a Bachelor of Applied Arts from Ryerson. More

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