Northern New York businesses eager for return of Canadians

·3 min read
Lisa Newcombe, manager of the Healthy Way shop in Ogdensburg, N.Y., is excited to welcome back Canadian customers and friends once the U.S.-Canada land border reopens next month. (Crystal Reynolds - image credit)
Lisa Newcombe, manager of the Healthy Way shop in Ogdensburg, N.Y., is excited to welcome back Canadian customers and friends once the U.S.-Canada land border reopens next month. (Crystal Reynolds - image credit)

Business owners in Ogdensburg, N.Y., are expressing relief and excitement to news the U.S. will reopen its land border next month to fully vaccinated Canadians for non-essential travel.

"We are honestly super excited on our side," said Orin Wing, manager of The UPS Store in Ogdensburg.

"To have that news come right now is just a breath of fresh air for people in northern New York. It means we're going to be employed still."

Wing estimates Canadians made up 95 per cent of his store's pre-pandemic business.

The UPS outlet an hour's drive south of Ottawa has long been popular with Canadian mail-order shoppers looking to either save on shipping costs, or pick up goods a seller won't ship into Canada.

For $5, the store receives and holds any package, though it waived that fee for Canadian customers when the border closure was announced in March 2020.

"Canadians have always been an integral part of life here," said Wing. "There's no other way to put it. Pretty much everyone and their brother misses them."

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, The UPS Store has reduced its staff from 11 employees to just two.

WATCH | Views on the border news from upstate N.Y.:

Beyond the economic troubles, the 18-month U.S.-Canada border closure has also greatly impacted relationships, said Wing.

"It's heartbreaking." he said. "We have a lot of customers with wives and husbands in Canada that they haven't been able to see."

A mile away at the Healthy Way shop, manager Lisa Newcombe heard about the border reopening after being contacted by CBC for this story.

"I'm so thrilled and excited to hear that I'm going to be seeing a lot of my friends from across the border," she said.

Newcombe said Canadian customers accounted for roughly 30 per cent of her store's sales, and she's had to reduce staff to a skeleton crew during the border closure.

Gregg Harland
Gregg Harland

'We took a big hit'

Over at the Ogdensburg International Airport, manager Stephanie Soracco welcomed the news but acknowledged it will take time to hopefully return to normal operations.

"We took a big hit, with very few passengers," said Soracco. "It's kind of early on and I think businesses and airlines are wrapping their head around it right now and trying to see what their next moves will be."

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Before the closure of the land border, travellers from the Ottawa area often made the drive to Ogdensburg to catch a low-cost flight to Florida on discount carrier Allegiant.

But in the fall of 2020, citing low demand and the extended closure of the U.S.-Canada border, Allegiant stopped servicing Ogdensburg, while daily flights by United Airlines to and from Washington, D.C., continued.

"We are actively working on getting some low-cost carriers back here," said Soracco. "With any luck they will see the potential here in Ogdensburg and start offering flights again."

An exact date for the reopening has not yet been determined, according to senior U.S. administration officials who briefed reporters during a conference call.

They said a number of details are still being worked out, including the type of documentation that will be accepted to prove a traveller's vaccination status.

Alexander Behne/CBC
Alexander Behne/CBC

The UPS Store will need some time to prepare for the return of Canadians, said Wing, since the store has been stockpiling some items from as far back as November 2019, using a combination of extra storage space and tractor trailers.

The store will have to quickly hire staff to deal with the backlog, and Wing advises Canadian customers who have more than one item to call ahead so their items can be packaged together.

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