Small towns and businesses suffer from U.S.-Canada border closure: “My income is down almost 60%”

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When Lars Jacobson spots a truck crossing the Canadian border into the United States, he sees unfairness. COVID-19 has stopped people from coming in, but not trucks facilitating commerce.

“The truckers can go back and forth because COVID can’t get them, but an individual can? What? It doesn’t make any sense,” Jacobson told CBS News’ Anna Werner.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced on Tuesday that he extended the border closure between the United States and Canada for another 30 days, banning all nonessential travel between the two countries.

Canada and the U.S. have limited border crossings to essential travel since March to stop the spread of the coronavirus. The closure may have had an impact. An estimated 7% of Americans have now been infected with the coronavirus, which compares with less than 2% of Canadians. The border will remain closed through at least February 21.

Those extra 30 days may have a detrimental effect on small towns and businesses that rely on cross-border traffic. 

Jacobson owns a package store in Porthill, Idaho. It’s within a spitting distance of Canada and it may go out of business.

“Our customers are totally stuck on the other side of the border,” he said. “Our clients are Canadians. We love Canadians.”

In normal times, Canadian customers save time and money by shipping their packages to “Jake’s Small Mart” on the U.S. side.

“But now [since border closure] shelves are jam-packed and I’m just trying to get [packages] to their rightful owners but can’t do it until they come down and get them,” Jacobson said.

In the meantime, the truckloads are still coming in and crossing the border.

“We are close to 2,000 packages waiting here for people to pick up now,” he said.

Those people normally also support Jacobson’s other businesses in a three-building village by buying gas, shopping and eating in the restaurant. 

Jacobson is not alone. The hardships of the border closure span the entire 5,500-mile border, including Washington state, where COVID canceled ferry service on the Olympic Peninsula, caused a $64 million loss and took 110 jobs.

It also impacted Kalispell, Montana, where retailers saw a 94% decrease in credit card spending by Canadian shoppers.

In Fort Fairfield, Maine, a golf club that spans both countries has been cut off from most of its business members. In between the 13 states that border Canada, there are 114 checkpoints and countless small towns and businesses. 

“It’s imperative that the border gets back open, that we see commerce going back and forth,” said Dennis Weed, director of Boundary County Economic Development at The Boundary Economic Development Council.

In Bonners Ferry, Idaho, there are only 2,500 people who reside in the town. Unemployment nearly doubled in Bonners Ferry to 7% after the border closed. 

Government money did provide some relief. “Stimulus package has helped but that’s run out. Now people are working less hours, not hiring to try to keep their expenses down ’til we get through it,” Weed said.

Over in Eureka, Montana, Dave Clark’s “First And Last Chance Bar” sits 200 yards from the border.

“First place to get a drink on the way down, last place to get a drink on the way home. That’s why it is called First And Last Chance Bar,” Clark said.

The bar is also on its last leg — in a state where Canadians typically spend more than $200 million a year.

“My income is down almost 60%. If I hadn’t had the PPE loan and there’s two grants that Montana gave us, I’d be completely out of reserves,” he said.

Back in Idaho, the packages keep piling up, and Jacobson passes the time counting the customers he does have each day, wishing there were more.

“Five, five, four, three, four, five,” he counted.



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