Money coming to keep grocer in US-Canada border community


SEATTLE — Money is on the way to help save the only grocery store in an isolated Washington state community that’s been especially strained by the pandemic-related closure of the U.S.-Canada border.

About 1,300 people live on Point Roberts, on the tip of a peninsula south of Vancouver, British Columbia, that juts into U.S. territory. It’s part of Washington, but separated from the rest of the state.

Before the pandemic residents often traveled into Canada to shop, work or drive the 25 miles (40 km) through southern British Columbia to reach the U.S. mainland. Canadian shoppers and tourists, meanwhile, have been a big source of revenue for the point’s businesses.

But the border has been closed to nonessential travel since March 2020. The Point Roberts International Marketplace, the community’s only grocery store, has lost many of its customers.

Gov. Jay Inslee announced Tuesday that Washington would give $100,000 from its strategic reserves to support the market, which faced closure on July 15.

The money will help keep the market afloat until the border reopens, preserving its 10 jobs and avoiding a food security crisis, Inslee said. The market might even be able to add three employees once business picks up.

“While all Washington communities have been impacted, the situation up there is unique,” Inslee said in a news release. “This action is a small bridge to support the entire community and retain a critical employer. I urge the U.S. and Canadian governments to take rapid and meaningful steps to reopen travel across the U.S.-Canada land border, consistent with public health guidelines.”

The market’s owner, Ali Hayton, said she remains frustrated by the border closure but is thankful for the governor’s support, which she said would help “stop the hemorrhaging” at her store. Other businesses and residents in Point Roberts continue to need help, she said.

“As a business owner, I have never wanted a hand-out; I just want my customers back,” Hayton said.

The market has been losing $30,000 a month without its Canadian customers and owners of second homes who haven’t returned to Point Roberts, she told Oregon Public Broadcasting last week. The most recent extension of the border closure — through July 21 — had pushed her to the brink, Hayton said.

Point Roberts leaders have been calling for a border reopening exemption for their community, going so far as coming up with a plan to offer surplus vaccine to Canadian visitors. They insist they don’t pose a public health threat to Canadians because about 85% of the community’s residents are fully vaccinated.

Inslee has repeatedly asked Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, without luck, that Point Roberts residents be allowed to travel directly through southern British Columbia to re-enter the U.S. mainland at Blaine. Trudeau has acknowledged the difficulty the border closures have caused some communities, but he has cautioned against reopening too hastily.

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