New Brunswick

Lack of Canadian customers in Maine's mom and pop shops 'sad' and scary'

Michael Lawson, who manages C and E Feeds in Calais, Maine, hasn't seen some of his loyal Canadian customers for more than half a year.

Latest extension of U.S.-Canada border closure won't expire until Sept. 21

Michael Lawson and Cari Anne Lawson, of C and E Feeds in Calais, Maine say they miss their Canadian customers. (Submitted/Michael Lawson)

Michael Lawson, who manages C and E Feeds in Calais, Maine, hasn't seen some of his loyal Canadian customers for more than half a year.

A big part of his business is handling parcels for New Brunswick online shoppers who want to ship to a U.S. address.

But since the border closed to non-essential travel on March 21, they can't go pick them up.

"It's probably somewhere around 5,000 packages," said Lawson, doing a mental tally of everything he's keeping in his warehouse space.

"And some of them would have been here since after Christmas and the New Year."

Lawson said revenue every month since the pandemic is significantly lower than it was in 2019.

Michael Lawson took a photo to show some of the 5,000 packages he has waiting for pickup by Canadian customers at his store on Calais, Maine. (Michael Lawson/Submitted)

Still, he said he's determined to ride this out, however long it takes.

"I think the business owners on both sides are feeling it and they're scared because they don't know what's going to happen."

Sold Harley Davidson to stay in business

It's a similar story in Houlton, where Mike Folsom started Shiretown Package Receiving seven years ago.

He said he considers many Canadians to be his neighbours and friends and he said they often send messages telling him that they miss their visits to his store.

"I guess I'm a little broken-hearted," said Folsom.

"I've seen people now for the past seven years and then all of a sudden, boom, there's a wall there."

Folsom said he's trying new ideas to keep the business afloat but that required cash, so he sold his Harley Davidson.

"The only thing that's keeping my doors open now is I'm buying and selling ATVs and snow sleds and three-wheelers and stuff like that, anything to stay open."

Open to border towns

 Folsom wishes authorities could open up travel just among the border towns.

"I understand they don't want people running all over everywhere, but the border towns are what I'm concerned with," he said.

"Not just me. I mean the whole town of Houlton is suffering."

Mike Folsom of Shiretown Package Receiving in Houlton, Maine said he wished the border between the border towns could open. (CBC)

Friday, federal public safety minister Bill Blair announced reciprocal restrictions at the Canada-U.S. border which were due to come up for renewal on August 21, would be extended another 30 days.  

"We will continue to do what's necessary to keep our communities safe," the minister tweeted.

Maine has one of the lowest COVID-19 rates in the United States as measured by cases per 100,000 people.

Still, its numbers are strikingly higher than New Brunswick's.

As of August 14, Maine CDC was reporting 4,115 cases and 126 deaths in a population of 1.3 million.

Recent polling suggests Atlantic Canadians are in no hurry to reopen to the U.S.

In two recent surveys, one by Ipsos and another by Narrative Research, more than 90 per cent of Atlantic Canadians oppose or strongly oppose reopening the border.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rachel Cave is a CBC reporter based in Saint John, New Brunswick.

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