Little relief for Point Roberts businesses as Canada prepares to reopen border


As Canada reopens its borders on August 9 to fully immunized Americans, residents of Point Roberts, Wash., Can celebrate their renewed ability to cross the border to shop in Tsawwassen, B.C., or visit friends. and their families.

But the celebration is mitigated by the fact that the border will not open both ways.

The United States has yet to announce the reopening of its border, which means the handful of Point Roberts businesses that have managed to stay open throughout the pandemic will continue to struggle.

The golf course is closed. The few restaurants that remain operate at reduced hours. And the marina, which normally has around 850 vessels, is less than a quarter of its capacity.

“It’s bad. It’s a ghost town. You drive, you barely see a car,” says Brian Calder, president of the Point Roberts Chamber of Commerce.

The community’s economy, which is heavily dependent on Canadian buyers, has almost completely collapsed, shrinking ">by 80 percent.

Normally, the grocery store parking lot is filled with about 300 vehicles, a mix of local and Canadian license plates, as British Columbians buy a deal on cheese, milk or gasoline. These days, there are about five.

“If Canadians can’t get off, all it does is take more business away from businesses here. It doesn’t help us at all, ”said Aly Hayton, owner of the city’s only grocery store, International Marketplace.

“It was devastating,” said Hayton.

“When you have a 38,000 square foot store built, staffed, and stocked to serve 8,000 customers a week and you only see about 800, it’s really hard to stay in the dark. And we don’t. couldn’t do it. “

The international border cut this peninsula in half, turning what would otherwise be a suburb of metropolitan Vancouver into a secluded getaway in Washington state separated from the Americas. (Allison Cake / CBC)

Hayton says she has been operating her business at a loss for 17 months, keeping the doors open at her expense. She estimates it cost her over $ 250,000 just to pay the bills and the staff.

“If I close, the people of Point Roberts don’t have access to milk, dairy, butter, cheese, fruit and veg, Tylenol, bandages, toilet paper. I’m the only game in town. for all that, ”she said. mentionned.

“The main reason we stayed open was that I wouldn’t sleep at night.”

Calder says that before the pandemic, around 1,200 people lived in the community. Now there are about 800.

A city in difficulty

Throughout the pandemic, the town of Point Roberts has continuously called on the Canadian and US federal governments to open the Point Roberts border.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee has written to Prime Minister Trudeau requesting special travel permits that allow residents to drive directly to and from mainland Washington state.

Last week Inslee sent a letter to the US Secretary of State, calling for the reopening of the land border between the United States and Canada for non-essential travel “to provide relief to the people and communities affected by the extended closure.”

The city’s vaccination efforts were successful. Calder says more than 85% of residents are fully immunized.

Since the start of the pandemic, the town has seen only six cases of COVID-19, isolated to two families.

“We’re not a danger to anyone,” Calder said.

Isolated and ignored

If the borders don’t reopen soon, Hayton says his business won’t survive. In June, she announced she had no choice but to close the city’s only grocery store.

Washington state was quick to announce that it would provide the store with $ 100,000 in funding, but Hayton says this is a temporary fix that will only help it stay open until September.

The parking lot at the International Marketplace grocery store in Point Roberts is virtually empty. Her owner says she has not made a profit since the start of the pandemic. (Brian Calder)

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Monday that the government was continuing to review travel restrictions.

“Any decision to reopen travel will be guided by our public health and medical experts,” she said.

“We take this incredibly seriously, but we watch and are guided by our own medical experts. I wouldn’t look at it through reciprocal intent.”

Calder says the once bustling city and its businesses need help.

“What we get is nothing because we are totally and completely ignored by our own federal government,” he said.

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