Border woes impact local businesses

Published on Thu, Sep 27, 2001 by Jack Kintner

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Border woes impact local businesses

By Jack Kintner

“First of all, write to Congressman Larson and Senators Cantwell and Murray and let them know that we need more border people immediately,” said Blaine Chamber of Commerce president Pam Christianson Monday, “not next week, now.” Christianson and other local business owners are working together to try and counteract the effects of heightened security at the border on the local economy.

With the PACE and Can-Pass programs suspended and each automobile and truck being searched, they are looking for other options to get traffic, and customers, moving across the border.

Christianson met earlier in the day with Blaine and Point Roberts business spoke at tah evening’s September 24 city council meeting, emphasizing the need for pressure on legislators from area residents to increase staffing at the border to reduce the long, business-killing lines seen since September 11. “This current situation is killing us,” she said.

Not all businesses seem to be suffering, though many clearly are. An informal survey found businesses that depend on Canadian customers have seen activity drop by as much as 70 percent.

“Oh, yeah!” said Amy Lindeman, owner of Ashley’s Attic, when asked if her business was down. “But I’m in favor of being cautious at the border.” Chris Olason and her daughter Gretchen Budnick of Olason’s Corkscrew Willow gift shop said business was off 50% or more.

Mike and MaryLee Hill both have businesses downtown and have seen the bottom fall out. Mike Hill’s Chevron station used to sell “500 12-packs of beer in a week, but in the last two weeks we’ve sold maybe one-tenth of that. And our fuel sales are down between 60% and 70%.” His sister MaryLee said that for the first time she can remember in the 34 years her family has owned the Pastime Tavern, “We took more U.S than Canadian currency to the bank. It’s dropped off like a rock.”

Patricia Greget, general manager of Denny’s Restaurant at Second and D said her business had dropped off by almost half. “Receipts were down several thousand dollars right away,” said Greget, “dropping by half the first week after the disaster, and again by half of that the following week.” Miquel Ramos, owner of the Mexican restaurant Paso del Norte, across the street from Denny’s, said that the day of the attack “was a disaster for us. We lost money just opening the door. I’d say now it’s back up a bit, but is still down at least 35%.”

Jessie Stainer of Sterling Savings Bank said that things were very quiet even though not as much of their investor base is Canadian. Sterling’s Canadian employees, as well as those who live in Point Roberts, are having difficulties getting to work on time.

Harjinder Singh and his family run the “Dollar & Less” in the Blaine Shopping Center. He said his business is down by half or perhaps a bit more. Despite these loses, Singh, a Sikh in the process of immigrating from India, gave 20 butane lighters and a lot of extra candles for the Candle Light Peace Vigil in Blaine last September 15.

Things don’t look so bleak for Bob Christianson at the Pacific Building Center. “Business is probably slower, but it’s hard to tell because we moved and that helped a lot,” he said. “Our Canadian trade is down, though we find that in a boom people build and in a bust people fix what they have, so business is steady.”

Scott Longshoreof the Radio Shack store in the Blaine mall also reported increases in business over a year ago. “Our Canadian trade is probably off, but over-all our business in this store is up by a little over 50% against a year ago,” he said. Jeff Young, manager of the Rite Aid Pharmacy, also said that his business had improved over last year although there had been some flattening out since September 11. Robbi Bartlett, who manages the downtown Portal Café, also reported some slow days but said she still has strong patronage for lunch.

Gary Vander Yacht of Border Brokerage said that the company, now owned by United Parcel Service, is not greatly affected by the slow-down. “A change may show up in several months,” he said, “but so far not much has changed. People will still ship over the border despite minor delays.”

Mike Johnson, manager of the Blaine Cost Cutter, had an interesting perspective, having managed the same store 6 years ago under the International Marketplace logo. “Then our trade was 70% Canadian, and were that still the case we would be in big trouble,” he said.

No one contacted had anything but praise for the border guards and support for increased security. But the need for additional guards to speed the system was also universally voiced. “How well could I do if I closed down all but two of my gas pumps?” said Mike Hill, referring to the apparent lack of sufficient personnel preventing local borders from operating at full potential. “If customs was a business, it would go broke!”
Pam Christianson’s word to the community is to pull together. “Businesses should become more U.S. friendly, as the International Marketplace did when it became Cost Cutter.

Local residents should do all the shopping they can here, too. And we should all contact our legislators to get more border people here to do the job we all know has to be done but in a way that continues to encourage cross-border traffic.”

Business owners from Blaine and Point Roberts have a meeting planned with U.S. Representative Rick Larsen over the weekend to try and get exactly that message to Washington D.C..

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