In cities bordering the United States, small businesses are reeling from the economic fallout from the partial closure of North America’s international borders.
Evan Kory started calling brides in Sonora state, northern Mexico, last March to ask if they wanted to get their wedding dresses from his Arizona store just before the United States hit the ground running. are closing their borders with Mexico and Canada because of the coronavirus.
Her namesake store in the border town of Nogales was popular among brides-to-be in North Sonora for its large and affordable inventory, said Kory, the third-generation owner. Located steps from the border fence, Kory’s has been in business for half a century but has been closed for a year due to the pandemic, its main clientele – Mexican day trippers – largely unable to come to the United States and go shopping.
Some 1,600 miles to the north, Roxie Pelton in the border town of Oroville, Wash., Was in a similar situation. Business at his shipping and receiving store is down 82% from a year ago as most Canadians who typically ship their orders online to his store were unable to drive across the border. .
Last summer, the 72-year-old laid off two employees and now works alone.
“I’ve made it this far, and I’m just praying that I can hold on until the border opens,” Pelton said last month.
In cities bordering the United States, small businesses are reeling from the economic fallout from the partial closure of North America’s international borders. Restrictions on non-essential travel were put in place a year ago to curb the spread of the virus and have been extended almost every month since, with the exception of trade, trucking and critical supply chains.
Small businesses, residents and local chambers of commerce say the financial toll has been heavy, as have the disruptions to life in communities where shopping, work and sleep are common in two different countries.
“Border communities are those that depend – economically, socially and yes, from a health point of view – on the daily and essential travel of tourist visa holders,” wrote the presidents of 10 chambers of commerce in border towns in the United States. Arizona, Texas and California in a statement. letter last month to the departments of homeland security and transport. He called on the government to allow visitors with U.S. tourist visas to enter their states.
As more Americans are vaccinated against COVID-19 and infection rates drop, many are hoping the restrictions will be eased soon.
US Senator Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine, last month called on the Biden administration to reconsider border restrictions between the United States and Canada, arguing that “common sense exceptions” such as family visits or daily trade should be scheduled for border towns where infection rates were low.
However, the Ministry of Homeland Security announcement that the United States, Mexico and Canada have agreed to extend border restrictions on non-essential travel until April 21.
Meanwhile, U.S. Democratic Representative Raúl Grijalva of Arizona introduced a bill to provide small businesses within 40 kilometers of a U.S. border with loans of up to $ 500,000 or grants of $ 10,000.
“Cross-border traffic is the lifeblood of their economy,” Grijalva said. “And these are the people who walk on it, the people who come to retail shopping.”
According to the Arizona-Mexico Commission, which promotes commerce and tourism, Mexican visitors contribute between 60% and 70% of sales tax revenue in communities bordering Arizona.
In Texas, border towns faced higher unemployment rates during the pandemic than the state average, although in some places this has already been the case.
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Jesus Cañas, a business economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, said Texas border economies appear to be doing better than many predicted a year ago. In border towns like Brownsville, Laredo, and El Paso, the unadjusted January unemployment rates of 9.5%, 8.9%, and 7.4%, respectively, were close enough to the state’s rate of 7. 3% to suggest that the restrictions had less of an impact on larger, more diverse border economies than elsewhere.
“What I’ve seen over the years is that the border adapts to these shocks in a very particular way,” Cañas said.
In Nogales, the nearly 12-month economic wear and tear of a partially closed border is easy to spot in the historic city center.
Inexpensive clothing stores, money changers, thrift stores and retailers selling plastic trinkets within walking distance of the border have been closed. Many shop windows have been barricaded.
Olivia Ainza-Kramer, president of the Nogales Chamber of Commerce, said the loss of income due to the drop in Mexican buyers over the past year has been felt the hardest by the businesses closest to them. of the border which tend to be family-friendly and cater to pedestrians. buyers.
Further north, big box retailers and other stores are doing a little better because they are visited by residents of the city of 20,000, she said.
Kory, owner of the bridal boutique, saw the contrast up close. His family owns three clothing stores in Nogales. Two are a short walk from the US-Mexico port of entry – and both closed – while a third is about four miles from the border.
Kory said her family had been successful in keeping the third store open, although sales were down 75 to 80 percent from pre-pandemic levels. Most of the customers are residents of Nogales, he said.
“We’ve seen the development on the international border, you know, since the 1940s … in my family,” he said. “This is the first time we have had a closure.”
Kory said the company only kept four of its usual 27 employees. But based on conversations with clients in Mexico, he’s confident that once the restrictions are lifted, sales will be strong enough to rehire all those workers.
“That’s the plan,” Kory said, “but we can’t do it until our customers are cleared through.”
Rathke reported from Marshfield, Vermont.