A man walks past a shuttered clothing store in the border town of Nogales, Arizona on March 15, 2021. The store has been in business for nearly half a century but closed because of the pandemic for almost a year, with its main customer base, Mexican day-trippers, largely unable to come to the U.S. and shop. (AP Photo/Suman Naishadham)

A man walks past a shuttered clothing store in the border town of Nogales, Arizona on March 15, 2021. The store has been in business for nearly half a century but closed because of the pandemic for almost a year, with its main customer base, Mexican day-trippers, largely unable to come to the U.S. and shop. (AP Photo/Suman Naishadham)

U.S. businesses near border struggle with boundaries’ closure

Restrictions on nonessential travel were put in place a year ago to curb the spread of the virus

Evan Kory started calling brides in Mexico’s northern Sonora state last March, asking if they wanted to get their wedding gowns from his Arizona store just before the U.S. closed its borders with Mexico and Canada because of the coronavirus.

His namesake shop in the border town of Nogales was popular among brides-to-be in northern Sonora for its large, affordable inventory, said Kory, the third-generation proprietor. Located steps from the border fence, Kory’s has been in business for half a century but has been closed for a year because of the pandemic, with its main customer base — Mexican day-trippers — largely unable to come to the U.S. and shop.

Some 1,600 miles (2,575 kilometres) north, Roxie Pelton in the border town of Oroville, Washington, has been in a similar pinch. Business at her shipping and receiving store is down 82% from a year ago because most of the Canadians who typically send their online orders to her shop haven’t been able to drive across the border.

Last summer, the 72-year-old let two employees go and now works alone.

“I’ve gotten by this far, and I’m just praying that I can hold until the border opens up,” Pelton said last month.

In border towns across the U.S., small businesses are reeling from the economic fallout of the partial closure of North America’s international boundaries. Restrictions on nonessential travel were put in place a year ago to curb the spread of the virus and have been extended almost every month since, with exceptions for trade, trucking and critical supply chains.

Small businesses, residents and local chambers of commerce say the financial toll has been steep, as have the disruptions to life in communities where it’s common to shop, work and sleep in two different countries.

“Border communities are those that rely — economically, socially, and yes, health wise — on the daily and essential travel of tourist visa holders,” the presidents of 10 chambers of commerce in Arizona, Texas and California border cities wrote in a letter last month to the Homeland Security and Transportation departments. It asked the government to allow visitors with U.S. tourist visas to cross into their states.

As more Americans are vaccinated against COVID-19 and infection rates fall, many hope the restrictions will soon be eased.

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine, asked the Biden administration last month to reconsider U.S.-Canada border restrictions, arguing “common-sense exceptions” like family visits or daily commerce should be made for border towns where infection rates were low.

However, the Department of Homeland Security announced that the U.S., Mexico and Canada agreed to extend border restrictions on nonessential travel through April 21.

Meanwhile, Democratic U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva of Arizona has introduced a bill to provide small businesses within 25 miles (40 kilometres) 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 it’s the people that walk over, the people that come to do retail shopping.”

Visitors from Mexico contribute an estimated 60% to 70% of sales tax revenue in Arizona border communities, according to the Arizona-Mexico Commission, which promotes trade and tourism.

In Texas, border cities have faced higher unemployment rates during the pandemic than the state average, though in some places, that had already been the case.

Jesus Cañas, a business economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, said Texas border economies appear to have fared better than many predicted a year ago. In border cities like Brownsville, Laredo and El Paso, January’s non-seasonally adjusted unemployment rates of 9.5%, 8.9% and 7.4%, respectively, were close enough to the state’s rate of 7.3% to suggest the restrictions have had less impact on larger, more diversified border economies than elsewhere.

“What I have seen over the years is that the border adjusts to these shocks in a very peculiar way,” Cañas said.

In Nogales, the economic wear from nearly 12 months of a partially shut border is easy to spot in the historic downtown.

Bargain clothing stores, money exchanges, secondhand shops and retailers selling plastic knickknacks within walking distance of the border were closed. Many storefronts were boarded up.

?Olivia Ainza-Kramer, president of the Nogales Chamber of Commerce, said the loss in revenue from the drop in Mexican shoppers over the past year has been felt most acutely by businesses closest to the border that tend to be family-owned and cater to pedestrian shoppers.

Further north, big-box retailers and other stores have fared a little better because they’re visited by residents of the town of 20,000, she said.

Kory, who owns the bridal shop, saw the contrast up close. His family has three clothing stores in Nogales. Two are steps from the U.S.-Mexico port of entry — and both closed — while a third is about 4 miles (6 kilometres) from the border.

Kory said his family has managed to keep the third store open, albeit sales are down 75% to 80% from pre-pandemic levels. Most of the customers are Nogales locals, he said.

“We’ve seen the evolution at the international border, you know, from the ’40s … in my family,” he said. “This is the first time that we’ve had a closure.”

Kory said the business has kept just four of its usual 27 employees. But based on conversations with customers in Mexico, he’s confident that once restrictions are lifted, sales will be strong enough to rehire all those workers.

“That is the plan,” Kory said, “but we can’t do it until until our customers are allowed to cross.”

READ MORE: Helping Canada reach vaccine ‘parity’ critical to reopening border: U.S. congressman

___

Rathke reported from Marshfield, Vermont.

Suman Naishadham And Lisa Rathke, The Associated Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

CoronavirusUSA

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The District of Ucluelet is fast-tracking temporary use permits for RVs/campervans as seasonal housing. (Westerly file photo)
Ucluelet reviews 11 applications for RVs as seasonal housing

“Housing is so essential to everyone, and an issue that cases a lot of stress to business owners.”

Parks Canada and Tla-o-qui-aht public works dig the washed up Princess M out from sand along the south shore of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. (Nora O’Malley photo)
Rescue attempt costs man his boat off Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

Coast Guard response questioned after volunteer responder’s speedboat capsizes in heavy swells

A B.C. Centre for Disease Control map showing new COVID-19 cases by local health area for the week of April 25-May 1. (BCCDC image)
Vancouver Island’s COVID-19 case counts continue to trend down

Fewer than 200 active cases on the Island, down from highs of 500-plus earlier this spring

(The Canadian Press)
Trudeau won’t say whether Canada supports patent waiver for COVID-19 vaccines

‘Canada is at the table to help find a solution’

Pieces of nephrite jade are shown at a mine site in northwestern B.C. in July 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Tahltan Central Government MANDATORY CREDIT
Indigenous nation opposes jade mining in northwestern B.C.

B.C.’s Mines Act requires operators to prepare a plan to protect cultural heritage resources

The body of Brenda Ware, 35, was found along Highway 93 in Kootenay National Park on Thursday, May 6, 2021. (RCMP handout)
RCMP ask for tips after woman’s body found in Kootenay National Park

Brenda Ware was found along Highway 93 in the park, 54 kilometres north of the town of Radium

People pass the red hearts on the COVID-19 Memorial Wall mourning those who have died, opposite the Houses of Parliament on the Embankment in London, Wednesday, April 7, 2021. On May 3, the British government announced that only one person had died of COVID-19 in the previous 24 hours. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Kirsty Wigglesworth
For a view of a COVID-19 future, Canadians should look across the pond

Britain, like Canada, is one of the only countries in the world to delay second doses for several months

Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid (97) celebrates his 100th point this season with Leon Draisaitl (29) against the Vancouver Canucks during second period NHL action in Edmonton on Saturday, May 8, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Edmonton superstar McDavid hits 100-point mark as Oilers edge Canucks 4-3

NHL scoring leader needs just 53 games to reach century mark

Nuns of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity, carry some of her relics during a vigil of prayer in preparation for the canonization of Mother Teresa in the St. John in Latheran Basilica at the Vatican, Friday, Sept. 2, 2016. In which city did she do much of her charitable work? (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
QUIZ: How much do you know about these motherhood issues?

In honour of Mother’s Day, take this 10-question quiz

A map showing where the most number of cases were recorded from April 23 to 29. This map, revealing a breakdown of infections by neighborhood, was pulled from a data package leaked to the Vancouver Sun last week (and independently verified).
36 Abbotsford schools flagged for COVID-19 exposures in the last 2 weeks, shattering record

Clearbrook Elementary recorded an ‘exposure’ on all 11 school days

Island Health has confirmed COVID-19 exposures at Ecole des Deux Mondes in Campbell River on May 4 and 5, and at Mill Bay Nature School in Mill Bay on April 28, 29, 30 and May 3. (Metro Creative photo)
Two new COVID-19 school exposures confirmed by Island Health

Health authority contacting anyone exposed at Ecole des Deux Mondes, Mill Bay Nature School

Most Read