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The U.S.- Canada border’s been closed for four months, and nearby towns are suffering

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A "Closed" sign in the town of Niagara Falls, Canada. The coronavirus pandemic has hit tourist attractions hard economically.

A "Closed" sign in the town of Niagara Falls, Canada. The coronavirus pandemic has hit tourist attractions hard economically. Emma McIntyre/Getty Images

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On Friday, the U.S. and Canadian governments agreed to keep the border between the two countries closed to all nonessential traffic for another 30 days, at least. The border’s been closed since March, and it’s hit the economies of border towns hard.

One example has been Niagara Falls. Summer at Niagara Falls is usually pretty lively. Restaurants? Full. The bridges that link the U.S. and Canada? Packed.

But this year, “all you’re seeing right now is peak season, and you’re probably seeing about 10% of what you’d normally see,” said Gordon Stephens, who runs a Niagara Falls travel website and books boat rides and tours.

Stephen said his business is down by 95% this year. Last year, 46,000 busloads of Canadians crossed bridges into western New York. Since March? Not one.

“That means restaurants and casinos and tourist attractions are … obviously losing millions of dollars in revenue,” said Kathryn Friedman, a fellow at the Canada Institute who lives in Buffalo, New York.

Annually, 20 million Canadians visit the United States. On average, they spend almost $1,000 here, at baseball games and rock concerts, outlet malls and big-box stores.

And, they come to pick up things they’ve purchased online. A lot of small border towns in Washington state depend on that, said Laurie Trautman, who runs the Border Policy Research Institute at Western Washington University.

“These towns have built up industries around Canadians, right? I mean those industries wouldn’t exist — particularly the online mail order, P.O. box industry — if we didn’t have so many Canadians coming down,” she said.

The absence of Canadians is hurting a lot of industries along the border, said Christopher Sands, who runs the Center for Canadian Studies at Johns Hopkins University.

“They provide the restaurant revenue, maybe there are people buying gas that contributes to a local gas tax,” he said. With those consumers gone, it affects state and local governments that rely on those taxes.

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