Localbusiness gains from the rise of the Loonie

Published on Thu, Oct 4, 2007 by ack Kintner

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Local business gains from the rise of the Loonie

By Jack Kintner

After being worth just a little over 60 cents U.S. a few years ago the Canadian dollar has passed the U.S. dollar in value for the first time since 1976 and Blaine merchants say they can see a difference in local trade. Several downtown Blaine merchants were contacted for this story and none reported a decline in Canadian customers, though some said that there was confusion over the fact that a premium was still being charged Canadians who were converting currency into U.S. currency.

Whatcom Educational Credit Union Blaine branch manager Nancy Keel said the premium is a result of the currency exchange service the bank uses, which charges a small fee that’s reflected in the price for foreign currency.

“We have to charge what it costs us to buy,” she said.

Deb Morley, manager of West Marine, said that she doesn’t have that many more Canadian shoppers, but there’s still a difference. “We have a few more than we’ve had, but they’re all a lot happier seeing what their dollar will buy them now as opposed to just a few weeks ago,” she said.

Restaurateurs such as Tony Andrews of Tony’s Just a Bite restaurant downtown and several places in Birch Bay also reported mild to moderate increases in Canadian patronage, as did Goff’s Department store, the Pastime Tavern and Northern Meadows Specialty Gifts and Wine.

Carroll Solomon at the Blaine Visitor Center said she’s seeing more tourists from Canada stop in to ask directions to Blaine as well as state-wide businesses.

But perhaps the greatest impact of the Loonie in comparison with the greenback is seen in real estate, where realtor Mike Kent said that his business is now primarily Canadians buying homes from Americans.

“Five years ago, 20 percent of the sellers and none of the buyers were Canadians. Now, 80 to 90 percent of the buyers are Canadians and the sellers are mostly Americans,” Kent said.

“Blaine is unique because the real estate looks cheap to Canadians,” he said. “A top-drawer luxury condo at the Marin development next to the Semiahmoo Resort will sell here for $825,000, but if you just go across the bay for the same thing in White Rock it would cost two to three times that.”

Most affirmed that business is up, but have also expressed misgivings about the way tighter border restrictions inhibit trade.

“In some ways this equity happened at just the wrong time,” said Kent, “because it’s not going to be easy crossing the border in the next few years. But if a downturn results, there’s always the Olympics that come right after the border remodeling is finished.”