Ottawa

U.S. town suffering as border closure locks out eastern Ontarians

One business owner says her parcel pickup service took a severe financial hit after the Canada-U.S. border closed in mid-March, cutting off her eastern Ontario customers.

Ogdensburg, N.Y., economy ‘decimated’ after cut off from Canada

This year is the 60th anniversary of the Ogdensburg International Seaway Festival, but the celebration has been postponed until 2021. (Andrew Foote/CBC)

One business owner says her parcel pickup service took a severe financial hit after the Canada-U.S. border closed in mid-March, cutting off her eastern Ontario customers.

The loss of revenue from Canadians "just about decimated our little city," said Laurel Lee Roethel, owner of Roethel Parcel Service in Ogdensburg, N.Y., that sits just across the St. Lawrence River from Prescott, Ont. 

"The traffic is minimal," she told CBC Radio's All in A Day.

"I can stand here and not watch anyone go by for 10 minutes and I'm on the main street."

'People are just not shopping'

Normally, Canadians would be popping across the border both to pick up deliveries they get sent to her business in order to avoid paying higher shipping fees and to buy items not available on this side of the border.

Because of the drop in tourists, Roethel has been forced to make cutbacks. She had to lay off staff and run the business by herself.

Other businesses in Ogdensburg have already shuttered their doors, she said.  

"People are just not shopping," she said. "Obviously the Canadians aren't shopping like they were, meaning the products aren't coming in."

Some customers used to pick up packages daily and some of those packages have been piling up for months.

"One lady here has 53 packages," said Roethel.

Laurel Lee Roethel, owner of Roethel Parcel Service in Ogdensburg, N.Y., just across the St. Lawrence River from Prescott, Ont. (Supplied by Laurel Lee Roethel)

She's been trying to help out her customers in little ways, like re-packaging parcels to minimize shipping costs before sending them across the border.

Other pandemic effects

Ogdensburg has also felt the effects of the pandemic in other ways. 

This year would have been the 60th anniversary of the Ogdensburg International Seaway Festival, which has been postponed until 2021.

"It's hundreds of thousands of dollars for our little community," said Roethel, who co-chairs the event. "It's not only the revenue that the businesses are going to receive, but it's also the sales tax that would go to the government, to help us with our streets and police."

Her family has also suffered in other ways from the border closure.

Her sister-in-law is Canadian and lives in Cornwall, Ont., but Roethel's brother is a firefighter EMT and works in the United States as an essential worker. 

The two were married last summer. 

We hear from Laurel Lee Roethel in Ogdensburg, New York whose business has suffered since the Canada-US border closures. 11:04

On Sundays, Roethel's sister-in-law drives down to Prescott and sits —Tim Hortons coffee and binoculars in hand —across the river from her husband and the couple talk on the phone. 

Roethel hopes both countries reopen the border, but only to people living within a certain distance. 

"If they could open it up from Ogdensburg to Ottawa, that would be fabulous," she said.

With files from CBC Radio's All in A Day

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now

now