Grocery store in U.S. community only accessible by land through B.C. may close due to pandemic
VANCOUVER -- The only grocery store in a U.S. community reliant on Canadian tourism may not survive the COVID-19 pandemic.
Point Roberts, Wash., is a community geographically isolated from the U.S. It can only be reached on land through British Columbia.
And 15 months without Canadian tourism has taken a toll on the pene-exclave south of Vancouver.
So great is the impact of border closures and travel bans that the community's only grocery store will be closing next month, if nothing changes, an official tells CTV News.
A chief with Whatcom County Fire District 5 said in an interview Monday that his community had recently learned the store would close July 15, "if they don't get some type of border relaxation or state/federal/county help to maintain their operations."
"As you can understand, a grocery store is an extremely important factor for any community, and if this was to close it, it would become a very quick humanitarian crisis for Point Roberts," Fire Chief Christopher Carleton said.
With the vast majority of permanent residents of the community at least partially, if not fully, vaccinated, Carleton said, there is no reason to keep Canadians out.
Earlier this year, Point Roberts and other Washington border municipalities even floated the idea of offering Canadians their extra vaccine doses, though at the time border officials on both sides shut down any hope of crossing just for a shot.
Carleton said what the community needs is an increase in tourism in the summer months, including from British Columbians who own property in Point Roberts. An estimated 75 per cent of the properties on the point are owned by Canadians, who've been locked out.
The fire chief said even if they do cross into the community, he thinks they'll be discouraged knowing they may have to quarantine when they get home.
Of the politicians in charge of border rules, Carleton said he thinks those in Ottawa and Washington, D.C., don't understand the needs of border towns, and the reliance they have on Canadians heading south.
"I understand there is still concern with the developing variants out there of COVID continuing to spread, and maybe being brought into either one of our countries," he said.
But allowing 150 to 200 people to stay in the community is a "huge economic boost for us, and obviously needed."
And for those who do live full-time in the community, if the grocery store can't survive financially, more trips into B.C.'s Lower Mainland would be necessary.
Carleton said Canada Border Service Agency workers would "basically have 24-7 traffic at that point" from essential trips to get basic supplies.
Members of the community have reached out to the media to voice concerns several times during the pandemic, including in February when a group of volunteer care providers warned of seniors and people with disabilities were put at risk by the isolation.
In January, some likened the area to a "ghost town," saying residents had been forced to pack up and leave, and that they'd felt abandoned and locked down by the border restrictions.
At that time, months before the latest update, the president of the Point Roberts Chamber of Commerce was already saying he feared the lone grocery store wouldn't be able to stay open. He said the independently-owned International Marketplace was staying open for the good of the community, but that its owners "certainly aren't making any money."
Fortunately there will be at least some possibility of tourism next month, as the federal government announced Monday that its international travel restrictions will be lifted in some cases starting next month.
As of 11:59 p.m. EDT on July 5, Canadians who are fully vaccinated will be able to travel without having to self-isolate for 14 days, taking a test on Day 8, or having to stay in a quarantine hotel when they get home.
This new rule does not apply to anyone who has not received both doses of COVID-19 vaccine. Residents of Point Roberts are hopeful for an influx of travellers when the rules change.
With an interview from CTV News Vancouver's Cameron Mitchell