U.S. Thousand Islands businesses feel the loss of Canadian customers
KINGSTON, ONT. -- As the Canada-U.S. border remains closed to non-essential travel, business owners on the American side say they feeling the loss of their Canadian customers.
Kassi Pharoah is a server at Buster's Restaurant in Ogdensburg, New York, located right near the Ogdensburg International Airport.
She says it’s common for people from places like Ottawa and eastern Ontario to treat the American city as their own.
“A lot of Canadian customers, taking their animals to the vet, coming in to catch a flight, getting their cars fixed,” explains Pharoah. “Sometimes the men would go golfing and the wives would go shopping. We don’t see that anymore.”
In fact, Pharoah says Canadians accounted for about 40 per cent of their business. Over the years, some even became friends.
“Our regular customers, when some of the girls have gone on to have kids, they’ve come over with baby shower gifts. We talk about different trips we know they're going on, we see them on the way out for their vacations, we see them on the way back as well,” she explains. “We absolutely miss them.”
While she says she understands why they’re not visiting, the loss is felt, as hours and staff are cut.
Non-essential travel restrictions have been in place across the Canada-US border since March because of COVID-19.
Corey Fram, Director of Tourism with the 1000 Islands International Tourism Council, says data from Statistics Canada show that in April of 2019, about 18,000 Canadians drove across the border for day trips.
This year, with the border closed, places like Ogdensburg, Watertown, and Syracuse are feeling the effects.
“It’s a little bit difficult to kind of continue to look at this region at this time as a truly bi-national area,” he says. “So many folks are relatives, cousins, teammates, and right now we’re separated.”
Fram says businesses understand why the closures are happening, but are hoping for a way to move forward.
“These two countries rely on each other and, in particular, these two regions rely on each other,” he says. “How are we going to get back there, and when?”