Businesses in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. are excited to welcome Canadians back when the border is expected to open up again next month, but there are concerns closer to home that businesses on this side of the river will once again be affected by Canadian dollars being spent in the U.S.
“We are crossing our fingers and hoping this will actually go through,” said Tony Haller, executive director of the Sault Area Chamber of Commerce in Sault, Mich. of the announcement made Wednesday that the U.S. border will open to Canadians in early November. “It’s been a long time coming and we are excited to get that border open.”
Haller said Sault, Mich. businesses, restaurants and attractions will be ready for a return of Canadians when the day comes they are allowed back in the U.S.
“We have been waiting a long time to welcome our friends and neighbours from Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. back here to Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. to take advantage of our restaurants, our shopping and entertainment,” said Haller.
Canadians will need to be fully vaccinated to make the trip over the International Bridge into the United States. The vaccines must be approved by the Food and Drug Administration, like Pfizer, or by the World Health Organization, which includes Oxford-AstraZeneca. It is unclear how the policy will affect people who received mixed doses of vaccine.
Mayor Christian Provenzano said he hopes the requirement to be fully vaccinated to cross into the U.S. will encourage some people who have held off getting two shots in the arm to do so.
As of Wednesday, Algoma Public Health reports 78.5 per cent of the total population in the region has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccinated, while 73.8 per cent are fully vaxxed.
“Our vaccination rates are strong, although we do want to push them upward,” said Provenzano. “I think that represents a positive for our community.”
Rory Ring, CEO of the Sault Ste. Marie Chamber of Commerce in Sault, Ont. said he hopes the reopening will simplify the process of getting people and goods back and forth across the border and begin the process of returning to a state of normalcy.
“One of the big challenges of course is what is going to happen with cross-border shopping?” said Ring.
Businesses on the Ontario side of the St. Marys River have enjoyed the benefits of the lack of cross-border shopping over the last 20 months, but he notes they also haven’t benefited from Americans coming here until recently when the Canadian border was opened to those coming from the U.S.
“We do have shoppers who come from Sault, Mich. to shop in Sault Ste. Marie. There is a symbiotic relationship here and supporting local just has a lot of meaningful outcomes to it,” said Ring. “We also recognize our brothers and sisters in Sault, Mich. have suffered pretty significantly because of the border being closed and shoppers not going over there.”
As cross-border shopping was forced to wind down, much of it was replaced by online shopping, said Ring.
Last week, the Canadian government announced $135,000 in funding for The Sault Ste. Marie Chamber of Commerce to introduce a Shop Local campaign that will run until Jan. 22 and a Love Local campaign to follow.
“It’s really going to help build the awareness that keeping dollars in your community has a pretty significant impact on how you create property in your community, how you create jobs, how you create the social fabric that is needed in a community,” said Ring.
”Hopefully those messages will resonate with folks and they continue to support their local businesses, because those are your neighbours, these are the businesses you go to ask for sponsorships for your sports teams, the businesses that support local charities,” he added.