ROUSES POINT — Norman Lague looks to a baseball analogy when describing the effects of ongoing border restrictions on the U.S.-Canada relationship and what it brings to local businesses.
“MLB baseball went on strike years ago, and it devastated the sport,” he said. “The sport was able to come back, but it took years for it to come back.
“I would suspect that this (the border closure) is going to have changed people’s travel habits, and it’s going to take a number of years before it goes back to the way it was before, if it returns at all.”
Norman, who co-owns Lakeside Coffee in Rouses Point with his wife, Sonya, was disappointed and frustrated with the news that, though Canada plans to allow fully vaccinated Americans to cross the border by land Aug. 9, the United States will not do the same.
On Wednesday, the Department of Homeland Security extended the restrictions on nonessential travel by another 30 days through Saturday, Aug. 21.
“When we heard that the border was going to open up Aug. 9 for Americans to go into Canada, it was our natural assumption that the U.S. would reciprocate and ... at minimum, fully vaccinated Canadians would be allowed to come south,” Norman said.
Though the Lagues know they most likely missed out on business from boating traffic this year, they had hoped for “a nice shot in the arm to end the summer and into the fall,” he said.
Over last summer, just months after the effective closure intended to help curb the spread of COVID-19 went into effect, Lakeside Coffee’s gross revenues were down between 30% to 35%, Norman said.
Prior to the pandemic, the Lake Street business greatly benefitted from boaters coming in from the marina to use the Wi-Fi and grab a cup of coffee and a bite to eat before hitting Lake Champlain.
But with that customer base shut off, the Lagues essentially reinvented Lakeside, revising their business model to focus more on wholesale coffee distribution and rely much less on Canadian tourists.
That, combined with support from locals and also an influx of interstate travel, has helped finances level off.
“Last year was tough, but we’re not even close to that now,” Norman said. “We’re pretty much running on par with pre-pandemic numbers.”
Clinton County Legislator Robert Hall (D-Area 10), who chairs the legislature’s Airport Committee, similarly noted that Plattsburgh International Airport is sustaining itself for the time being thanks to its rental properties and well-utilized flights to Dulles International Airport near Washington, D.C.
But he noted that, since Canadians can still fly across the border, the airport is losing business on its Florida flights that Canadians would normally take after driving across.
“And don’t forget, we’re losing all the parking revenue, we’re losing the people that eat dinner here and shop. I mean, it does affect the economy a lot.”
To Hall, the border might as well be open if Canadians can still fly across it.
“It makes no sense. You can fly out of Montreal or Canada everywhere, but you can’t drive across the border.”
Hall said the airport could be affected financially if the border closure remains in effect over the winter, typically the busiest travel times for its Canadian customers.
WHY ARE WE DOING THIS?
Norman hopes the restrictions are lifted by the end of August so that an extra jolt of business can hit his coffee shop during the fall.
But he questioned the reasoning behind the continued closure, saying no one seems to be articulating a path forward.
“You’d think the governments would just go ahead and they would put something out there — ‘This is what we’re looking for to move forward with the opening of the border or making sure the border remains open.’
“But all you get is, ‘The restrictions are going to be kept in place for another month,’ and it’s like, why? Why are we doing this?
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