Burlington retailers miss Canadian tourists, say business thrives without them

Pedestrians walk along Church Street in Burlington on Thursday, July 15, 2021. Photo by Glenn Russell / VTDigger

Burlington retailers are eagerly awaiting the return of Canadian tourists.

“Canadian tourists are extremely important,” said Mike Donohue, one of the 18 employee owners of the Outdoor Gear Exchange, as he spoke to VTDigger inside the sprawling Church Street store in Burlington. “The Canadian border being so closed, we are just delighted to see it reopen. We have clients who have been coming from Montreal and Quebec for years.

“We love having the Canadiens here,” said Lara Heath Allen, owner of Ecco, a clothing store. “It has always been a huge part of our business. “

But even without visitors from beyond the northern border, Burlington’s Church Street is teeming with visitors filling restaurant outdoor tables, and retailers say VTDigger’s business is better than before the pandemic.

“Business has been good,” Donohue said – so good that they are back to pre-pandemic levels.

“We think it’s pretty similar to 2019,” Donohue said. “We are doing it without Canadian tourists. ”

The land border between the United States and Canada has been closed to non-essential travel since March 2020. Current restrictions are in place until at least Wednesday, when the two countries decide to lift or extend these restrictions.

The Canadian government has said it will not open the border until at least 75% of Canadians have been fully immunized. Since Thursday, only 35% of Canadians were fully vaccinated.

While the land border has been closed, the Outdoor Gear Exchange has taken advantage of Americans wanting to be more out of doors.

“We’re lucky that through the pandemic people had some clarity on what was important in life, and time spent outdoors is one of the things you can do, and people had this desire and developed it, or chose new sports like hiking or biking, nature watching, ”Donohue said.

Many people who ran on treadmills, for example, started running outdoors and eventually needed warmer clothes or headlamps to maintain the routine. Equipment related to camping, biking, boating, skiing and other snow sports was also shattered.

Another reason business is so good, Dononue said: more impulse buying driven by shortages, which “encourages customers to shop less.”

“If we have a bike of the size that someone is looking for and a general specification as to whether they want a cross country bike or a mountain bike or a gravel bike and it’s in their hands, they there are good reasons to buy, ”he said,“ because if we were to place a special order, it could be three months to a year before that exact model can return to stock. ”

Booming sales are welcome for companies that have suffered so much during the pandemic.

Lara Heath Allen owns Ecco Clothes on Church Street in Burlington. Photo by Glenn Russell / VTDigger

Heath Allen, of Ecco, said she was only two months old in 2020 when her shop was doing “decent” business. From March to May, when the store was closed, she didn’t do any business, and after that she got about half of the business that she normally does. Much of her business depends on people who need clothes for special occasions, she said.

“There wasn’t much of that anyway,” said Heath Allen.

Everything has changed in the past two months.

“We’re really incredibly busy,” said Heath Allen, who opened his store on College Street in 1992 and then moved it to Church Street. “In fact, I’ve never been so busy.”

Heath Allen said it appears that many customers are visiting schools, but also that the return of events and occasions has led to a resurgence in demand among local customers for clothes for dressing.

Alexis Pomerleau, owner of Jess Boutique, said the company has benefited from “consistent and loyal Canadian customers” that it has missed for a year and a half.

Still, she was able to keep her business consistent during the pandemic by hosting live Instagram sales. Sales of dresses have exploded.

“It’s wonderful that people can organize events again,” said Pomerleau. “They come to dress up and we see all of our loyal customers. We are seeing a lot of new customers who moved to Vermont during the pandemic and people who are just ready to go out and shop and have not been to Church Street for a long time. “

Heath Allen is eager to cross the border on her own to visit Montreal, a city he has missed.

“I love to see the stores,” said Heath Allen. “I love the restaurants, the whole atmosphere, the museums, the culture. It’s so nice to have a really big city in less than an hour and a half.

Certain Canadian companies

A few Canadian tourists found their way to Church Street.

Paul-André Ménard and Lise Dasylva live in the Laurentians, Quebec. For the past 18 years, they have come every year because they have a sailboat moored in Plattsburgh, New York. Every year until last year, ie.

A sign welcoming Quebecers adorns the window of a Church Street store in Burlington. Photo by Glenn Russell / VTDigger

They spoke to VTDigger in French.

As the land border remains closed, they decided to charter a flight from Saint Hubert, Quebec, to Plattsburgh.

“It’s a 15 minute flight,” Dasylva said.

They had their vehicle shipped so that they could use it in the United States. He was waiting for them when they got off the plane in Plattsburgh.

“It’s a good thing we came to see our sailboat,” said Dasylva. “It was full of swallow nests and dung. He was deteriorating. It has been 19 months since we have been able to see our sailboat.

They live on their boat and plan to stay in the United States all summer. They do not expect the land border to reopen on July 21, but believe that for “the health [and] also for electoral reasons ”, it could open a month later.

“It is highly likely that we will have a federal election in Canada this fall,” Menard said. “[Prime Minister Justin] Trudeau got a bit slapped on the fingers at the start of the pandemic because they were slow to close the borders. They want to reopen the borders to please the snowbirds, ”he said, referring to Canadians wintering in Florida.

“If the borders reopen on July 21,” said Ménard, “you will see a lot of Quebec boaters on the lake. They will say to themselves that they can sail at the end of July, all of August and part of September.

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