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Communities pay economic price in US-Canada border closure

Point Roberts in Washington state sits surrounded by water on three sides and is separated from the rest of America by the Canadian border. It's never been an issue, until COVID closed the land border to most travel last year.
Point Roberts, Washington normally relies on a constant stream of thousands of Canadian visitors doing day trips. The land border closure to nonessential travel - because of COVID - put a stop that and created a major economic strain on the community.
Without Canadians coming into Point Roberts, the Saltwater Cafe was forced to close. Owner Tamra Hansen is hoping to reopen once more visitors are able to come across the border into the community starting on November 8th, when the U.S. lifts COVID restrictions for vaccinated visitors.
Inside the Point Roberts International Marketplace, it's been a rough financial situation for the town's lone supermarket during the past year and a half. They rely on Canadians for much of their customer base - so much so, that the cash registers there hold both American and Canadian currencies.
Point Roberts residents are holding out hope that the border reopening on November 8th might help ease the financial strain there. Yet, it comes with its own set of issues - including how Canada will still require mandatory COVID testing for Canadians who visit and then return home. It's an extra step that they fear may discourage Canadians from crossing the border.
Posted at 11:44 AM, Nov 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-04 13:44:17-04

POINT ROBERTS, Wash. — On a small peninsula of five square miles in the Pacific Northwest, rainy days are nothing new.

It’s a gloom of a different kind that is engulfing those who live Point Roberts, Washington.

"No one's paying attention to a damn thing in Point Roberts, and that's wrong," said Brian Calder of the Point Roberts Chamber of Commerce.

The peninsula in Washington state sits surrounded by water on three sides and is separated from the rest of America by the Canadian border.

It's never been an issue until COVID-19 closed the land border to most travel last year.

"Our population has gone from like 1,200, which wasn't huge to begin with, down to about 800," Calder said.

We first met Calder last year, when we reported on what Point Roberts was going through with the border closure. There is no car ferry, though there is a grass airstrip on the peninsula, but there is no control tower and no regular flights.

So, what's changed since then?

"Nothing,” Calder said. “Nothing except lockdown and more punitive, more human suffering, more economic devastation."

For a community that normally relies on a constant stream of thousands of Canadian visitors doing day trips, the economic impact from the border closure isn't hard to find.

"It's been devastating for all the restaurants on the point," said Tamra Hansen, owner of the Saltwater Café.

The café closed because there simply wasn’t enough business available without Canadians coming into town.

"I can't blame the locals. They've supported me as much as they can through this whole pandemic,” Hansen said. “And I appreciate that. It's just not enough."

Inside the Point Roberts International Marketplace, there is more bad news for the town's lone supermarket.

"Last week was our worst week ever in the history of the store being here," said owner Ali Hayton. "The last two months have been really, really hard. There have been days I looked at sales and just thought, 'I don't know how we're going to keep doing this.'"

Hayton said they are holding out hope the border reopening on November 8 might help.

Yet, it comes with its own set of issues, including how Canada will still require mandatory COVID-19 testing for Canadians who visit and then return home.

"Nobody's going to do a $150 test to come down and put gas in the car and buy a gallon of milk," Hayton said.

People in Point Roberts are hoping the Canadian government will create a COVID-19 testing exemption for their community, but so far, that hasn't happened. In the meantime, they say more American help from federal, state and local governments is needed.

"From day one, we've always said, 'We don't want help, we just want our customers back,'” Hayton said, “but at this point, we've got such a huge hole to dig out of that, you know, we're going to take that help if it comes."

It’s a community now waiting to see if the tide may start to turn there.