Spending my high-value Canadian dollars
March 31, 2010 5:47 PM   Subscribe

Thinking about doing some cross-border shopping in Buffalo this weekend (from Toronto). What kind of traffic can I expect, and what other tips should a first-timer know?

Is Easter weekend the wrong time to do this? I'm not sure about the crowds, though it's a holiday weekend, so...

I'm thinking about going Good Friday, as I'm pretty sure stores in the States are open (please correct me if I'm wrong).

My main concern is wait times in traffic and at the border. Also, should this be a one-day or two-day trip? What times should I leave/return?

Any help is much appreciated. Thanks!
posted by hiteleven to Shopping (11 answers total)
I don't have any recommendations on specific times of day this weekend, but whenever I'm heading over the border through Niagara, I always call the info-line (800-715-6722).

It's updated every fifteen minutes and gives wait times at all three crossings and in both directions. First call I make is before I leave Toronto (gives me an idea of what to prepare for...also may rethink my trip if all three borders suck) and second call is just as I'm coming up on St. Catherines and need to decide which bridge to turn for.

Remember to call again on your way back. It may cost you a couple bucks in roaming fees, but saves a potentially multi-hour wait.

Have fun.
posted by dismitree at 6:29 PM on March 31, 2010

I've done this before on a holiday weekend, though it wasn't a holiday in the US. We got through to the states with less than half an hour wait when crossing at 11:00 am, and even less on the way back around 7:00 pm. But I've heard of people doing exactly that and waiting far, far longer. As a rule of thumb, just leave early. The sooner the better. The early morning wait times are reliably short, whereas you're rolling the dice if you try to sleep in a bit.

Remember to bring some change (preferably in USD, though they take CDN) for the toll roads!
posted by sah at 6:33 PM on March 31, 2010

You can bet pretty reliably that stores will be open Good Friday, though some might close early. Less true for little family/personal boutiques, but that sort of shopping is better in TO anyway.

Border waits are a deep mystery. Keep calling the bridge number as you go; if they're all giving you three hour waits and you're just at Mississauga, give up and turn around. But definitely call; there have been several times where the friendly voice has told us that there's a two hour wait at one bridge and minimal to no delays at another.

I wouldn't worry about traffic. I don't think I've ever seen traffic past Oakville except one time when they closed the big bridge in Hamilton for high wind. Traffic in metro Buffalo is pretty much nonexistent because the road network was designed for a town that's way bigger than Buffalo is now.

You could do it as a day trip. About the only reason I could see to stay overnight is if that affects your .ca customs allowances.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:33 PM on March 31, 2010


Stores will be open on Friday, Saturday and Monday, but not Sunday.
posted by yawper at 7:45 PM on March 31, 2010

In general, the Peace Bridge is less busy in my experience - it's the furthest from Toronto, and well away from the tourist magnets of Niagara Falls and the Prime Outlet mall, but definitely call or check a border crossing website enroute. The Peace Bridge also drops you off in Buffalo proper, if that's where you really want to go.

Walden Galleria seems to be a main target of Canadian cross border shoppers, but I prefer the Boulevard Mall - a lot of the same stores, but less busy, and it has a carousel if you're travelling with young kids.

Macy's has great deals if you apply for one of their cards, but once you've bought things with it, hit an ATM and pay it back in cash before you leave - you can't pay their bills online from home, and they don't make it easy to avoid late payment fees.

Check out a Wegmans if you have time - Loblaws and Metro will never be anything but disappointing after that.

I prefer to stay over at least one night, simply because it's more relaxing, but then again, we travel with a preschooler who hates shopping, YMMV. It's not necessary, unless you want to see everything on one trip. The Airport Clarion and Millennium Buffalo are the usual ones - they have indoor pools, the latter is walking distance from Galleria, the former is about $50 less per night. If we were able to travel sans offspring, we'd likely check out Salvatore's Grand Hotel.

If you do cross at Niagara, check out Goat Island in Niagara Falls State Park, We tend to think of Americans sticking tacky things wherever there's a natural attraction of some kind, looking at the Canadian side from here is a notable exception.

If you want to hit an Olive Garden for dinner, expect a wait that will exceed the border crossing lineups by a significant margin.

Walden is open Good Friday until 9:30 pm, Boulevard until 9. Everything is closed Sunday.

Mighty Taco rocks.
posted by Chuckles McLaughy du Haha, the depressed clown at 7:46 PM on March 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you haven't been before, there are three big shoppingy areas in metro Buffalo, all out in the 'burbs. There's good shopping in Buffalo itself, but the good stuff there is more in little funky boutiques, and Toronto does that better.

One is the Galleria Shopping Hell, where there's the galleria itself, some stuff with a Borders across Walden, and a Target and (God help you) wal-mart a little down Walden on the other side of 290.

Another is Niagara Falls Boulevard Shopping Hell. This starts with Boulevard Mall, which is across Alberta from a Wegmans, and then a little north on Niagara Falls there's another big shopping center with a Target, Best Buy, B&N, etc.

The third is Transit Road Shopping Hell, out on the eastern edge of the metro area. It starts sort of with Eastern Hills Mall and runs south about 500 miles with traffic lights every 18 inches or so. There's a Wegmans on the northern end of it.

Mighty Taco is what it is... better than Taco Bell, and funny tv commercials.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:29 PM on March 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'll second the vote for the Boulevard Mall over Walden Galleria but you should figure out which stores you really want to go to (I don't think there's Old Navy at Boulevard, for example). While you're checking out which stores are where, look for coupons. Boulevard is smaller and more manageable IMO.

I'll also second the vote for Wegmans though depending on when you go it might be busy because of the holiday but it's open 24 hours. Mighty Taco is fabulous and it's open late but my favorite place for wings (arguably the best place for wings in Buffalo) is Duffs, not far from the Boulevard Mall.

My dad likes the outlets. I haven't been in a long time.

I don't think you need to spend the night, especially if you leave early.
posted by kat518 at 8:37 PM on March 31, 2010

I live in Niagara Falls, NY.

The traffic, even around the outlet malls, rarely gets worse than "congested" -- nothing as bad as Toronto. The one exception is that the 190 just south of Grand Island is under construction until the winter and down to a few lanes, so there's bad congestion there.

The bridge wait times vary. All I know is I drive by the Lewiston bridge every Saturday around 10:30 or so and it's bumper to bumper the whole way along. If you want to do the trip a lot, you can get a NEXUS pass and use the special Whirlpool bridge. With the pass it's so fast my wife will sometimes go get us poutain from Harvey's for dinner and be back in 20 minutes.

If you want a break from shopping, there is a really gorgeous short hike along the Niagara Falls gorge -- park at the Whirlpool State Park if you're interested.

Wegmans is awesome. Definitely stop by one.

I've noticed many local restaurants take Canadian currency. La Hacienda in Niagara Falls has great pizza (but spotty service).

I think Mighty Taco's vegetarian burrito is an abomination.
posted by bitterpants at 6:46 AM on April 1, 2010

I found the Lewiston Bridge to be usually the best, fastest route to cross in my experience. I haven't been through there in several years though.

One is the Galleria Shopping Hell, where there's the galleria itself, some stuff with a Borders across Walden, and a Target and (God help you) wal-mart a little down Walden on the other side of 290

That's actually 90 in that area, not 290. the 290 dumps into the 90 at the north end of Cheektowaga (my hometown).
posted by Doohickie at 8:28 AM on April 1, 2010

Easter weekend is not a bad time - just a busier time. There will be sales, and shopping seems to be a form of recreation there on weekends, especially at Target, even when there isn't an influx of cross-border shoppers. They will likely be closed Sunday - though Wegmans may still be open - maybe check? And Wegmans IS lovely - their healthy section is better than the Big Carrot's, they have these machines that pop out these puffy things that we love, sometimes they have Go Lean Crunch at 2/$5 when it's regularly $6.50 a box here... and well.... they're just full of great stuff.

I live in TO, and my parents in Buffalo. I'm back and forth often - and will say that the Peace Bridge is the least congested lately; Queenston-Lewiston the most (some sort of seemingly unending construction) (It used to be faster for us - cutting twenty minutes off the trip - but it took us a year to figure out that it wasn't working that way any more). The Rainbow Bridge is iffy, but it's a more interesting drive sometimes. Call the hotline, or there will be a flashing sign on the QEW giving wait times just before you have to decide which way to veer, or sometimes some of the Buffalo AM radio stations will give a bridge report with their news on the hour. Though 680 will tell you if there's a jam on the way down, it doesn't really matter if there's traffic on the way there, because the QEW is pretty much the only route, unless you really want to get creative.

When I shop, I tend to hit the Prime Outlets in Niagara Falls, and the shopping plazas off Niagara Falls Boulevard near Maple that have a Target, an amazing Craft Store, a Barnes & Noble, Burlington Outlets, JoAnne Fabrics and such -- oh, and a trip to Premier Liquor, on Delaware Ave., if that's your thing. The Liberty for Target collection is indeed gorgeous, and if there's anything you're specifically on the hunt for, let me know and I'll happily advise.

Here is the information on what you're allowed. You probably want to stay two days, since what you're allowed to bring back increases significantly. Keep your receipts in one place, ready to hand over - that's saved us from many a more thorough search.

Oh, and we usually leave after on 7 on any evening, missing Toronto's rush-hour traffic, and we get to Buffalo around 9 with little, if any, wait. Target's open until 10, Barnes and Noble until 11 (B&N has a Starbucks and a nice bathroom, as does Target). Then we get a good night's sleep (at my folks') and have the whole next day to bomb around. That works really well for us - better than trying to get there in the morning and having the long boring drive as the first thing.
posted by peagood at 10:49 AM on April 1, 2010

This is a little after Easter weekend, but I wanted to contribute a little hard won knowledge on these crossings. (I crossed there every weekend for the last two years.)

Any three day holiday in Ontario will make the wait at the crossing into Canada exceptionally long, i.e. 1-2 hours of wait time. This also includes the period during Ontario schools' spring break.

The delays progress in length from the longest at the Lewiston Bridge, then the Rainbow Bridge, and the shortest at the Peace Bridge.

Always check the border times at the 800 number listed above, but they are often wrong as they are not updated as frequently as they should. Any delay time listed should have at least 30 minutes added to it on a holiday weekend.

It is best to not cross at the Lewiston Bridge on any 3-day Ontario holiday weekend and going into Canada around closing time at the nearby Niagara Falls outlet mall on any weekend.

Finally, a Nexus pass is great. However, it ONLY works for the Nexus pass holder. If you are traveling with anyone else, you must use normal lanes / bridges to cross. That's why it is great for commuters and lousy for families. Plus, I find the Whirpool Bridge is out of the way and well-hidden. I drive past the entrance every time.

[I eat at Mighty Taco and I'm not ashamed to admit it.]
posted by Apollo's Favorite Mistake at 1:50 PM on April 13, 2010

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