US businesses on Canadian border want their customers back

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Motels, retail stores, even sports teams like the Buffalo Bills are seeing results from the closure of the US land border to Canadian tourists.

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MASSENA, NY—It’s late September, and in this village of about 10,000, Mike McCabe is getting ready to put the first layer of snow on the field.

In a typical winter, the 1,600-seat venue plays host to weekend hockey tournaments and figure-skating competitions that often attract dozens of Canadian families. But Massena is again forced into the absence of Canadian visitors this year, along with other communities on the US side of the border, more than 18 months after it was closed to non-essential, overland visitors for the first time.

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Border cities from Blaine, Wash., to Halton, Maine, had hoped the US would react after Canada allowed fully vaccinated Americans to enter the country last month. But while US rules allow Canadians to fly into the US if they take a pre-travel COVID-19 test, they bar Canadians from driving across the border unless their travel is deemed essential.

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According to data from the US Bureau of Transportation Statistics, total land crossings by private vehicles traveling from Canada to the US were down almost 90% in June compared to the same month in 2019.

“When you mess with things in terms of back and forth access across the border, it has a variety of implications,” said Gary Douglas, head of the North Country Chamber of Commerce. In addition to the impact on tourism, he said, the restrictions have prompted some Canadian companies to invest in the area or switch to a local supplier.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Meyerkas said earlier this month that the US government expected to open the land border soon, “but sadly, because of the delta version, we are delayed to do so.”

Moving from Canada to one of the smaller cities that northern New York complicates under border restrictions: one would need one or more flights from the nearby Canadian city of Cornwall and at least three hours of driving to get to Massena. will be required.

Canadians previously could make an easy 20-minute drive across the St. Lawrence River. Many families coming for hockey tournaments stayed for a few days at a bar, spending money in local restaurants and hotels.

“No team is going to fly here to play games,” McCabe said. “If you suggested, they’ll probably think you’re out of your mind.”

According to the hotel manager, during the years before the pandemic, at the Super 8 hotel in Messina, across the street from the arena, more than 25% of the guests were Canadians. At the nearby Econo Lodge, the general manager said Canadians make up about 30% of all guests, and all that business has been lost.

In Ogdensburg, about 35 miles southwest of Massena, revenue at the UPS store is down about 80% compared to years prior to 2020, owner Michael Lira said. Canadians used to drive to pick up items they sent to stores to save shipping costs, or buy products from companies that only deliver within the US. “You can’t plan,” Lira said of the uncertainty. I said when the US might reopen its northern border. “And the fact that nobody cares is very disappointing.”

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The Detroit border crossing – usually one of the busiest for private vehicles – recorded nearly 92,000 crossings in June, down from 704,000 in the same month in 2019. Buffalo and Niagara Falls, NY saw approximately 39,000 crossings in June, compared to 463,000 in June 2019. .

“Our retail and tourism operations, our sports teams are feeling the impact of not all Canadians being able to cross the land border,” said Dottie Gallagher, head of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership. She noted that more than 10% of the National Football League’s Buffalo Bills season ticket holders were typically Canadian, and more than half of the organization’s members had vendor or supply chain relationships in Canada.

Visit Detroit, which promotes tourism to the city and the surrounding area, estimates that approximately 1.3 million Canadians visited Michigan before the COVID-19 pandemic, spending about $411 million. “It has disappeared because of the loss of Canadian guests,” said chief executive Claude Molinari.

Further west, revenue at Railway Cafe near the border in Blaine, Wash., is down about 40% to 45% this month compared to its pre-pandemic levels, said owner Wicca Heywood. She said that during the pandemic more locals started flocking to cafes and more Americans are now traveling to Canada since they reopened in August, but this was not enough to offset the loss of Canadian visitors. “We think the border closures are most definitely in effect,” she said.

A silver lining for some areas, including upstate New York and Vermont, is increased tourism by Americans who traveled closer to home amid pandemic restrictions on international travel. Keeping businesses in the area near Burlington, Vt., capacity this summer has helped, said Lake Champlain Chamber Chief Cathy Davis, though she added that bringing Canadians back into the fall and winter as well as the longer hours. will remain important. Period.

Business leaders said they were disappointed that it was taking so long for Canadians to be allowed back into the country. In August, six local chambers of commerce, including the Lake Champlain Chamber, wrote an open letter calling for the border to reopen and to warn of “economic and cultural damage” from closing. Elected officials in border states have also called for a reopening.

“I don’t know what’s driving this,” Messina Mayor Tim Ahlfeld said of the continued closures. “But whatever is driving it is frustrating quite a hell of a lot of people.”


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