The reopening of the Canada-U.S. Border couldn’t come sooner for West Coast Duty Free in South Surrey, one of only two duty-free shops in British Columbia that have remained open throughout the COVID pandemic. 19.
While there has been no announcement at the border, the news of an easing of restrictions in British Columbia is a welcome sign for Gary Holowaychuk, who has described devastating revenue losses since the federal government closed the border in March of last year.
âIncome is down over 97%. We’re running on two, three percent of what we used to do. It gives you an idea, âsaid Holowaychuk.
While federal wage and rent subsidies have “softened the blow,” the store is still losing money every day due to the significant decrease in international travel.
Holowaychuk said West Coast Duty Free and Kingsgate Duty Free, located near Creston, are the only two duty-free shops in British Columbia that have remained open throughout the pandemic. Truckers represent about 90 percent of the business.
âI have remained open because US Customs does not allow truckers to use their washrooms, they are concerned for safety. We thought (the shutdown) was going to last three or four months and we thought well, you know what, these guys are pretty valuable to all of Canada and when you have to go you have to go.
However, truckers only buy âodds and endsâ and not buy enough to make the store break even.
In addition to the drop in traffic, West Coast Duty Free has also been hit hard due to the shelf life of many products. It is regular practice for the store to stock up in early spring to prepare for the summer season.
âMy warehouse was absolutely packed,â he said.
However, over the months the border was closed, so did the expiration dates of the products.
When open, the building is closed to the public, but goods can be purchased through a service window. Unlike many other businesses, duty-free shops were unable to switch during the pandemic to online sales or roadside pickup. Anything inside West Coast Duty Free must be immediately exported to the United States after purchase.
Holowaychuk gave News from the Ark of Peace a tour of the facility on Tuesday (June 15) and showed the dozens of empty shelves that once held high-quality confectionery. The lifeless section hasn’t had a visitor for months, other than staff going through and checking the expiration dates of the few remaining items.
About a month before an item reaches its expiration date, Holowaychuk and her staff make arrangements to donate the goods to food banks, schools, shelters and Semiahmoo House.
He estimated that they donated âhundreds of thousands of dollarsâ of confectionery items. If losing the product wasn’t enough, Holowaychuk actually had to pay the government to make the donations.
âThe government has given us two options. We could destroy it and throw it in the trash, or we could pay duties and taxes, so insult to injury. I had to pay an additional 10 to 15 percent on the confectionery to give it away, âhe said.
âIt was tough, but I just couldn’t destroy it. I couldn’t do that. There are things we had to destroy.
Among the items that needed to be destroyed were cigarettes. Two customs officers supervised as staff on the west coast used a tree chipper to shred thousands of boxes.
âA shredder running at full speed for about three hours,â he said. “I’ll say it was about four or 5,000 cartons of cigarettes.”
A single carton can sell for up to $ 170.
” And it’s not finished yet. Once we open up, we’ll go through it article by article. It will take several years to bounce back.
The federal government has yet to say when Canadians can expect the US land border to reopen. However, Holowaychuk said he has his fingers crossed that this announcement will arrive soon.
“Personally, I’m very happy that people are finally talking about it because for a very long timeâ¦ anyone who mentioned the border (reopening) was ‘out of the question, Jose’.”
At a press conference on Monday, Prime Minister John Horgan said he was due to discuss the international border with other prime ministers and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday, June 17.
A new survey from the Canadian Travel Medicare Association found that 40 percent of Canadians want the travel advisory lifted and welcome the reopening of the Canada-U.S. Border.
The survey also found that nearly a third of unvaccinated Canadians said they would get vaccinated when traveling abroad. For those respondents hesitant to get vaccinated, one in five said they would lie about their vaccination status to travel.