Point Roberts business owner says despite border opening, revenue barely up
It’s been two-and-a-half months since the U.S. border reopened to Canadian visitors, but unfortunately in Point Roberts, it’s not bringing the levels of tourism that businesses there were expecting after the 19-month closure.
Ali Hayton, owner of the International Marketplace — the only grocery store in town — said that while business shot up for the first few weeks following the early November reopening, that died down as soon as the omicron surge started taking hold.
“When it first opened and cases were down, we saw a 25%, 30% jump,” Hayton said. “And now that the cases are so high and these new requirements have come down that people don’t understand we’re exempt to, last week we were only up 6%.”
The requirements she is alluding to are the Canadian government’s rules that Canadian citizens returning home must present a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours at the land border. This rule also applies to Americans visiting Canada, who must be vaccinated in addition to having a test.
With the limited availability of PCR tests right now — and many locations reserving tests only for those with symptoms — health officials say finding a test for travel may be near impossible, unless a person wants to pay out of their own pocket. That means that anyone traveling across the border to Canada is in for a challenge.
However, Canadians who are only visiting Point Roberts are exempt from the testing requirement when they return home due to Point Roberts’ status as an exclave community. The American town sits on a small peninsula that is only accessible by boat or by driving 25 miles through southern British Columbia; it is not connected to Washington by land.
But Hayton says many Canadians are not aware of that exemption. Knowing that tests are so scarce right now, and not realizing that a test is not required for them, Hayton said that many of the Canadians with second homes in Point Roberts are just opting to stay home.
“For Point Roberts, the exemption is a lifesaver, but it’s still not very well-known,” she said. “And for the other border towns, it doesn’t help them at all.”
Hayton says now, business is really only up by a few percentage points — not enough for the town’s remaining businesses to hang on long-term.
This comes after the loss of two summer tourist seasons during the border closure. About three-quarters of the town’s houses are vacation homes belonging to nearby Canadians; without those visitors for 19 months, businesses lost the vast majority of their customers. Hayton said that many of the town’s landmark businesses have already had to close.
“We’re up a little bit from last year, but we’re definitely not where we should be,” she said. “And people just are really afraid still.”