The COVID-19 pandemic has meant the Canada - U.S. border has been closed to regular cross-border shopping trips and vacations since May, and many American businesses near the border say they miss both the revenues and the Canadians. A Canada-U.S. border marker is seen in Surrey, B.C., as people gather at Peace Arch Historical State Park in Blaine, Wash., Sunday, July 5, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

U.S. border communities feel loss of Canadian tourists, shoppers and friends

Restrictions on non-essential travel across the Canada-U.S. border have been in place since March 2`

The COVID-19 pandemic has put cross-border shopping trips and vacations on hold since March, and many American businesses along the border say they miss both the revenue and the familiar Canadian faces.

Bill Kilby, manager of Hardwick’s Country Store in Calais, Maine, has seen a dramatic 90 per cent loss in revenue and had to lay off 10 employees.

“I would buy $1,500 wholesale of milk a week from two different dairies, and now I’m lucky to squeeze out a $100 order every two weeks,” Kilby said in a recent interview.

Kilby operates the store, an attached duty-free shop and two gas stations. The duty-free shop and one of the gas stations are temporarily closed, and the store and other gas pumps are being operated with reduced hours.

“Our customers are 90 per cent Canadian, and the numbers are showing that out to be true,” he said.

His businesses are located just metres away from the border crossing with St. Stephen, N.B.

Kilby said that after 37 years on the job he has come to know customers by name, along with their children and grandchildren.

He said many families straddle the international border, and the pandemic restrictions are keeping them apart.

“Here most people are half-Canadian or half-American and have family members on both sides of the border. That’s why we get along so well,” he said.

READ MORE: Travel restrictions inspiring co-operation in border communities

Jane Torres, executive director of the St. Croix Valley Chamber of Commerce, said she’s seeing the same upheaval further north in Maine.

“A lot of our relatives live just across the border. We can’t get over to see them, and they can’t get over to see us,” she said.

Torres said while no businesses in her community of Houlton, west of Woodstock, N.B., have been forced to close, grocery stores and gas stations are suffering.

Restrictions on non-essential travel across the Canada-U.S. border have been in place since March 21 due to COVID-19

Businesses in upper New York State are also feeling the loss of Canadians from Quebec and Ontario who cross the border to shop and vacation.

“We depend on our friends and neighbours to the north a lot,” said Billy Jones, member of the New York State Assembly for the area that includes Plattsburgh, N.Y.

“I’ve talked to some campground owners that are at 10 per cent capacity. Close to 90 per cent would be Canadians who come down here,” Jones said. “A lot of people from Canada have second homes here, and camps along our lakes.”

READ MORE: Two U.S. boaters fined after B.C. RCMP find they broke COVID rules in Canadian waters

Jones said there are many businesses in his area that have yet to reopen, but those that have are feeling the absence of Canadians.

“It is having a big impact,” he said. “I think it makes us appreciate more our relationship with Canada and makes us appreciate what that business does for our economy.”

For Dottie Gallagher, president and CEO of the Buffalo-Niagara Partnership —a regional chamber of commerce for the Buffalo area — many of the complaints she’s hearing are from Americans who want to travel to Canada.

“We have a lot of Americans who own property in Canada, that do business in Canada and have friends in Canada. The uncertainty about not being able to cross has been troubling to us,” she said.

Gallagher said much of the Canadian traffic in her area is for Sabres hockey and Bills football games. With local matches on hold, even the American fans who used to head to Buffalo are no longer coming.

She worries that if the border remains closed much longer, Canadians who often visited the United States will find other places to go.

“We are disrupting people’s habits so greatly that they are going to form new habits,” she said. “Those new habits for Canadians are probably going to mean fewer trips to the U.S. I do worry about the long-term impacts.”

The border is currently closed until Aug. 21 for all but essential travel.

“The public sentiment towards Americans has become so negative, and I do think it will be a long time before the border is fully reopened,” Gallagher said. ”That just makes me really sad.”

Kevin Bissett, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

CoronavirusUSA

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

B.C. Premier announces fall election

Kootenay East MLA Tom Shypitka reacts to election announcement

Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Sept. 20 to 26

Rabbit Day, Hobbit Day and One-Hit Wonder Day are all coming up this week

Interior Health reports three additional COVID-19 cases in region

The number of cases in the region since the beginning of the pandemic are now at 492

UPDATE: Fire above Sparwood no threat to community

Mayor David Wilks reported it may be due to an exposed coal seam

Conservative opposition critic tours through Kootenay riding on listening tour

Pierre Poilievre, the Tory finance critic, gathering local feedback on pandemic supports, recovery issues

COVID-19: 4 more deaths, 366 new cases in B.C. since Friday

A total of 8,208 people in B.C. have tested positive for COVID-19 since January

16 COVID-19 cases reported in Interior Health region

One person is in hospital and 34 people are isolating

Group wants Parliament, courts to hold social media to same standard as publishers

Daniel Bernhard made the comments shortly after Friends of Canadian Broadcasting released a research paper

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

B.C.’s Chase Claypool catches first NFL touchdown pass

Abbotsford grad establishes new record for longest scrimmage TD by a Canadian

Missing Lardeau man not found, underwater search called off

Thomas Schreiber was last seen on Sept. 15

B.C. has highest number of active COVID-19 cases per capita, federal data shows

B.C. currently has 1,803 active cases after weeks of COVID-19 spikes in the province

Most Read