Neighbors in upstate New York are also feeling the woes of COVID-19

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Much like the people of the Kingston area, our neighbors in southern upstate New York are suffering from community aches and pains from the COVID-19 pandemic.And with the border between Hill Island on the Canadian side and Wellesley Island on the US side having been closed since the start of the pandemic, “non-essential” travel, which once saw buyers in the Kingston area head to Watertown and its surrounding areas. malls, box stores and restaurants and tourists also enjoying the area will not be picking up anytime soon.

Dave Zembiec, deputy general manager of economic development for Jefferson County, said in an interview that Canadians have been missed and will continue to miss him, as the border is expected to remain locked until at least November 21.

“Our hospitality and tourism, just like those along the river on your side of the border in Ontario, are dependent on the summer tourist season, so they have certainly been affected,” Zembiec said. “They normally have a short season window anyway, and of course, being delayed due to the pandemic in terms of when they could open and when they reopened, (they) could only accommodate 50% of the customers they did. they could normally accommodate.

View from a tour boat crossing the Thousand Islands near Alexandria Bay, New York (Jefferson County Economic Development / Photo provided)

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“A shorter window and less turnover has been a struggle for them. I think the industry felt it most significantly, ”Zembiec added, saying that ssome small tourist operators have closed due to the pandemic. “I think stores have felt the shortage of Canadian customers, as have retail hotels and restaurants.

Watertown’s Salmon Run Mall reopened its 80 specialty stores and restaurants in July, after being closed for several months, and is back in operation seven days a week. But Canadian customers remain scarce.

Dave Zembiec, assistant general manager of economic development for Jefferson County in Watertown, New York (Jefferson County Economic Development / Photo provided)

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Brian Kelly, editor of the Watertown Daily Times and the NNY360 website, said Arsenal Street in Watertown, home to the Salmon Run Mall and other big box stores, was a “ghost town” at first. pandemic and without the Canadian. buyers.

“It’s anecdotal, I guess, but the Canadian shoppers that we’re used to seeing and the Canadian tourists in the summer haven’t been here,” he says.

Business is good for Watertown stores when the Ontario license plates on vehicles parked in store parking lots approach the number of New York State plates.

“Usually in the summer it looks like one in three or four cars has an Ontario plate,” Kelly said.

He hasn’t seen a lot of Ontario plates lately.

“It really stands out when I see one in town,” Kelly said. “Some essential travel is permitted and every once in a while you’ll spot an Ontario plate.

“Canadian buyers have always been a kind of weather gauge for us. It’s still important for Watertown and (Alexandria) Bay. They all claim to have had great summers, but I can’t imagine without Canadian visitors that they have. The mall that is heading into the holiday season is sure to miss the coming Canadians.

“We’ve had a handful of restaurants that have announced they are closed and aren’t going to reopen, but (with) most things it’s at least open. … I don’t necessarily know how the companies are doing, but they are back up and running at this point.

Karla Woods, marketing manager for the Salmon Run Mall, said in an email that normally almost a third of its buyers are Canadian.

“I think with all of the businesses across the border, we are definitely missing out on the extra traffic from Ontario and our friends in Canada,” she wrote.

A view of the entrance to the Salmon Run Mall in Watertown, NY (Photo provided)

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Before the March pandemic, Woods said the mall received hundreds of phone calls from Canadian buyers interested in the Hobby Lobby store under construction. It was completed during the mall’s temporary closure, but Canadian shoppers will not be able to shop there until border restrictions are eased.

“It’s definitely a different world we live in now, due to the pandemic,” Woods wrote. “But I think the mall has adjusted very well overall. Our owners, Pyramid Management Group, have worked hard to be proactive with many aspects of the reopening and the new guidelines, so when we finally got approval to safely reopen to the public on July 10, we were ready and we were ready to go.

Like Kingston, the Watertown area and northern New York City have relatively low rates of COVID-19.

“They’re weak compared to other parts of the state and, I guess, the country,” Kelly said. “It’s rural, we’re in a small pocket here, so we weren’t devastated by the numbers, but, like everywhere, they crawl every day.

Zembiec said most manufacturers in the region have remained open because their products are deemed essential by the state.

“They were allowed to continue to operate, even though they had to face, as on your side also, some slowdowns due to the impact of the pandemic on the transport industry in terms of delivery of their components. to use them in the manufacturing process, ”he told me.

Some manufacturers had to make changes due to social distancing in the shop floor, while others were unable to open because their products were not deemed essential.

“Our unemployment rate is actually coming back well right now,” Zembiec said. “It sounds good, but at the same time we realize that there are people who have left the workforce. They have to stay home from work due to childcare issues, which excludes them from the unemployment rate calculation.

“There is a lot of business-to-business activity across the border, whether in terms of businesses on our side or your side getting some of their components on the other side or customers from the other side for the end product, or even the service. type companies.

“One of the things for our region and your side of the border (is that) there are a lot of business opportunities that we both have that are certainly somewhat restricted just by the environment. wider in which we work properly. now at that time. ”

In addition to dealing with the pandemic, U.S. residents are also bracing for a presidential election, with Senate and Congressional titles also up for grabs on November 3.

Kelly said the state generally supports the Democratic Party presidential candidate due to the fact that the large New York area population is generally more pro-Democrat, but the upstate region voted Republican in the race for Congress.

This year’s election features a hotly contested congressional race in the district with incumbent Republican and Donald Trump supporter Elise Stefanik facing Democrat Tedra Cobb, who challenged Stefanik two years ago and lost. The Watertown Daily Times endorsed Stefanik on Friday.

“We have in this area, for whatever reason, a lot of Trump supporters, and since (Stefanik) is not afraid of being aligned with the president, I think in this area it is playing well for her,” Kelly said. “Trump can be a pretty polarizing figure, and if you love her, you love her, and if you don’t love her, she’s poison. ”

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