Businesses in the town of St. Stephen are bracing for another month of next to no cross-border traffic from the state of Maine.
But they’re aiming to make the best out of challenging circumstances.
Jackie Scott, owner and operator of Pine Grove Custom Design, said she plans to reopen the storefront of her two-year-old business on Monday.
She said the COVID-19 pandemic forced her to close for about three weeks. She then converted to online-only orders as provincial restrictions continued.
“(The pandemic) slowed business down for a while for sure,” she said. “Now with graduation coming up we’re getting busy again. Graduation and Father’s Day. Mother’s Day was pretty busy.”
The Canada-U.S. border has been closed to non-essential travel since late March. This week, governments from both countries agreed to extend the closure by a month in June 21.
Scott said many in the community consider St. Stephen and Calais, Maine, located mere minutes from her store, to be like one community. She said it has been difficult to not have access to grocery stores and other amenities across the border, not to mention being unable to see relatives in Maine.
She said many of her customers and supplies come from south of the border.
“It’s frustrating,” she began. “Because I order a lot of supplies from New Jersey, and I have them come to Calais, Maine.
“And, yes, as a business, I can go over and pick up my parcels, but it’s really a pain because now you have to be approved by the United States border in order to go over and get those items.”
Tourism is an economic driver to the community, according to St. Stephen Mayor Allan MacEachern. He said he’s not sure what the lack of American tourists will mean for the town, but admits the impact will be “big.”
MacEachern believes the community understands the extraordinary circumstances behind the extended border closure.
“The majority of people like that call, so it makes my job easier because the majority of people do want to keep it closed,” MacEachern said.
“But do I want it open for reasons of economics? Oh, definitely.”
MacEachern said some St. Stephen businesses like grocery and hardware stores are thriving in the current environment because customers’ options are limited.
Other businesses are using pandemic-related shutdowns to reinvest in their services.
Carman’s Diner opened 65 years ago and has remained in the Hossack family ever since. Siblings Susie, Sherri and Neil Hossack took over the restaurant after their mother passed away in March.
Susie Hossack said the diner stayed open for takeout orders for a while, but they decided to close temporarily due to a lack of business.
The family then initiated the first mass renovation in the diner’s history, gutting the kitchen to create more space and install newer, modern equipment.
“We were just sitting around,” Susie Hossack said. “We had the place clean and all that and then we decided, ‘You know what, we need these renovations done. Let’s take the opportunity. We’re never going to have it again.’