“Our Customers Are 90% Canadian”: US Border Companies Fight COVID-19 – National


The COVID-19 pandemic has suspended shopping trips and cross-border vacations since March, and many U.S. businesses along the border say they miss both the income and the familiar Canadian faces.Bill Kilby, manager of Hardwick’s Country Store in Calais, Maine, suffered a dramatic 90% loss in revenue and had to lay off 10 employees.

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“I would buy $ 1,500 in bulk of milk per week from two different dairies, and now I’m fortunate enough to place an order for $ 100 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 operate at reduced hours.

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“Our customers are 90% Canadian, and the numbers prove it,” he said.

Its businesses are located a few meters from the border crossing with St. Stephen, NB

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Kilby said after 37 years of work he got to know clients by name, as well as their children and grandchildren.

He said many families straddle the international border and the pandemic restrictions separate them.

“Most people here 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.

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

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“Many of our loved ones live just across the border. We can’t come and see them, and they can’t come and see us, ”she said.

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Torres said no business in his community of Houlton, west of Woodstock, New Brunswick, has been forced to close, grocery stores and gas stations are suffering.

Restrictions on non-essential travel to 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 crossing the border to shop and spend their vacations.

“We depend a lot on our friends and neighbors to the north,” said Billy Jones, New York State Assembly Member for the region that includes Plattsburgh, New York.

“I have spoken to some owners of 10% capacity campgrounds. Almost 90% would be Canadians who come here, ”Jones said. “Many Canadians have second homes here and camps along our lakes.

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

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“It has a big impact,” he said. “I think it makes us appreciate our relationship with Canada more and makes us appreciate what this company does for our economy.

For Dottie Gallagher, president and CEO of the Buffalo-Niagara Partnership – a regional chamber of commerce for the Buffalo region – many of the complaints she hears come from Americans who want to travel to Canada.

“We have a lot of Americans who own property in Canada, do business in Canada, and have friends in Canada. We are concerned about the uncertainty of not being able to cross, ”she said.

Gallagher said a large portion of Canadian traffic in his area is destined for Saber hockey and Bills football games. With the local games on hold, even the American fans who were heading to Buffalo are no longer coming.

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

“We’re disrupting people’s habits so much that they’re going to take on new habits,” she says. “These new habits of Canadians will likely mean fewer trips to the United States. I’m worried about the long-term repercussions. ”

The border is currently closed until August 21 for all travel except essential travel.

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

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© 2020 The Canadian Press


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