Point Roberts loses second tourist season with border closure extension

Aug 20, 2021, 6:13 PM | Updated: Aug 23, 2021, 11:12 am
US Canada border Washington, Point Roberts...
(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)

The extension of the U.S. Border closure to Canadians until at least Sept. 21 wipes away the last hope for border communities to have Canadian visitors for some portion of the summer tourist season. And nowhere is it perhaps more devastating than in Point Roberts, which is now going through its second summer without the vast majority of its customer base.

More than 70% of the homes in Point Roberts — which sits on a peninsula accessible only by driving through British Columbia — are the vacation homes of Canadians who can’t get in. Meanwhile, the Canadian border opened to vaccinated Americans earlier this month, allowing Point Roberts residents to take their business to British Columbia.

“It dropped my business another 10%,” said Ali Hayton, who owns Point Roberts’ only grocery store, the International Marketplace. “I mean, I was already losing money, so you take another 10% away?”

That’s on top of the 80% drop in sales that Hayton told KIRO Radio last month she has experienced since the border closed in March 2020.

Criticism for U.S. government as next border decision looms

She does not understand why the United States cannot open just to those Canadians who are vaccinated, as Canada has done with Americans.

“Why can we not show a vaccine record and a negative test to let Canadians come down and help save our communities?” she asked.

It especially makes no sense to her that Canadians are allowed to fly to the United States — which involves being around crowds in the airports and on the plane — but cannot cross the border by themselves in a car.

“They could go to YVR, fly to Sea-Tac, come up to Bellingham, and get a little charter plane — so how many people are they exposed to in that trip versus getting in their car in their driveway and driving across the border?” Hayton said.

Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-WA), who has been advocating for months for the border to reopen, posed that same question in a statement, calling the federal government’s decision to keep the border closed “wrong and misguided.”

“Over the past year and a half, we have asked our border communities to put their economies and lives on hold to combat this virus,” she said. “Asking them to wait another month is a lifetime for them.”

She and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) both asked for an immediate exception to be made for Point Roberts, allowing Canadians to travel into the isolated town.

“This is the wrong decision by the administration — there must at the very least be an exemption for Point Roberts as we work to safely reopen the US-Canada border,” Murray said. “I appreciate the administration’s science-based approach to the COVID-19 pandemic and I firmly believe that the evidence supports a narrow and tailored exception to the administration’s Canadian border closure and a reopening of the Point Roberts port of entry to Canadian travel.”

Hayton is grateful for their advocacy, but she knows that the decision rests with the Biden administration — and she does not have much hope that President Biden even knows where Point Roberts is.

“We’re such a small community. … President Biden has not ever even addressed the issues of the only exclave over there in the state,” she said. “We just don’t matter to him. And it’s very evident that we don’t.”

As she looks ahead at what seems to be a difficult fall and winter ahead, she may have to make tough decisions like cutting her employees’ hours and carrying fewer products for residents.

“Every time I think there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, there’s just another freight train coming to knock me on my butt again,” Hayton said.

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Point Roberts loses second tourist season with border closure extension