Simon Resch’s fingers are being worked numb from texts and emails, his ear is ringing from phone calls and his brain is swirling with a to-do list — and he couldn’t be happier.
“Wow, it almost doesn’t seem real. It’s been so long [and] we finally get to get back to it,” said the owner of the Emerson Duty Free shop, located 100 kilometres of Winnipeg near the U.S. border.
Although he was interviews by telephone, Resch’s beaming smile was clearly detectable.
U.S. officials announced Tuesday night a plan to begin reopening the land borders with Canada and Mexico, which have been closed to non-essential travel for 19 months, bringing businesses like Resch’s to a halt.
“We have been effectively shut since March of 2020 and we’ve tried so many things to piece life and reality together since the beginning of this pandemic. So really, it was a sense of jubilation, elation,” he said.
“This really is a return to a semblance of normalcy for us.”
His shop is entirely dependant on travellers heading into the United States and wanting to buy goods like liquor, tobacco, perfumes and cosmetics that will be exempt from duty — the tax paid for bringing a product across international borders.
Losses around $10M
The impact of the closure is hard to sum up, said Resch, the second-generation owner of the family-run business started by his dad.
It has altered many things on both the personal and commercial side of his life, he said.
Gross sales have plummeted about 85 per cent, he said.
“Without putting a specific dollar figure, it’s north of $10 million. For a small family-run business that, of course, means fundamental changes. That changes absolutely everything — the present, the future,” Resch said.
“I moved back home a few years ago to take over a family business that was always a very, very good, positive, beneficial, healthy and profitable business. Of course, that hasn’t been the case since this pandemic began.”
That has caused upheaval for family, homes, staff and salaries.
“Everything has been impacted,” he said.
“Our lives are based on the free flow of people across the land border.”
Resch has watched Canadians fly into the United States without many inbound requirements for nearly the entire pandemic.
For reasons that have never been fully explained, the U.S. continued to welcome Canadian leisure travellers as long as it was by air. The only requirement is to show proof of a negative antigen or molecular test. There’s no vaccination requirement.
“From our perspective, it’s equally as safe, if not safer, to [travel] with your own personal vehicle going into the United States,” Resch said.
Although Canada reopened both its land and air borders on Aug. 9 to fully vaccinated American travellers, the U.S. did not reciprocate.
“Although we have seen, both in terms of customer counts and in terms of sales, a discernible and positive impact from the return of the Americans, it is but a drop in the bucket,” he said.
The bread and butter of the business comes from Canadians heading south.
So the news from the U.S. on Tuesday night provided much-needed relief, even if a concrete date has not been set. The ballpark date that officials provided was early November.
“I don’t know how many emails and text messages I sent last night, right away,” Resch said. “I started running through that in my head: what’s step one, step two, step three.”
Getting ready means restocking inventory, rehiring staff and figuring out what the demand will be from travellers.
“It’s sort of analyzing the environment and trying to ascertain what it’s going to look like on Day 1 and then for those first couple of weeks of return to traffic,” Resch said.
“Really, there’s so many things for us to consider today that there wasn’t yesterday, but all of those are grounded in this very, very positive announcement, from our perspective. We just cannot wait to get back to it.”
Knowing an exact date that the borders will reopen would help, he said.
“I don’t mean to come down on the U.S. federal administration. Clearly they continue to have struggles with COVID in certain sections of their country and they have a pretty big humanitarian immigration crisis going on at their southern border, so border policy cannot be an easy decision-making area for them,” Resch said.
“However, that does not reduce the impact to the rest of us in any way and some clarity in terms of dates … would be appreciated.”