Plattsburgh, NY

Will Omicron be the grinch that stole border towns' Christmas?

Stuart Grant
City Hall - Plattsburgh, NYWikimedia Commons

The US land border has been open to fully vaccinated Canadian travelers since November 8. Our northern neighbors are embracing their wanderlust and planning for testing and documentation requirements needed to make a cross border trip.

Bordertown businesses are breathing a sigh of relief as a result. Cross border shoppers are the lifeblood of vendors in the towns and hamlets that span the Canada-US border. Many small businesses have suffered income drops of up to 60% during the pandemic.

In normal times, NFL cities near the Canadian border claim that as much 20% of their ticket sales originate from Canadians. Canadians enjoy generous duty free exemptions on shopping, alcohol and tobacco for trips longer than 48 hours. Many border hoppers have made a tradition out of shopping trips on long weekends and Black Friday.

The connections between nations aren't just commercial. They're social and cultural with many long standing friendships being created along the way. The Champlain Mall in Plattsburgh, NY sits an hour drive south of French speaking Montreal, Quebec.

"We cannot wait to have Canadian shoppers come back," Emily Moosmann, the mall's marketing director, said in an interview. "We miss hearing French in the hallway; we miss seeing their faces."

Many vendors offer discounts to Canadian shoppers while others offer service in French. Savvy Canadian travelers are learning how to obtain a free Covid test stateside to coincide with their return home and avoid fees as high as $200 per test.

Just as Canadians are gathering vaccination documents and learning about PCR test protocol, the Omicron variant is looming over Christmas cross border shopping plans like Ebenezer Scrooge. As case counts in Canada rise with the seasonal move to indoor activity, public health officials are preparing to issue stringent gathering and travel restrictions.

Bordertown businesses can only hope that our Canadian friends can do their cross border shopping before Covid-19 case counts force another round of lockdowns.

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