Blaine mailbox stores use creativity as they wait for the U.S. to open Canada border

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Over a year-and-a-half after the U.S./Canada border closure and Blaine mailbox stores wait patiently for the return of loyal Canadian customers, all while they’ve settled into an adapted business routine.

Mail Boxes International owner Brant Baron said his parcel store has changed its business strategy to stay busy during the border closure.

To deal with parcels yet to be picked up, the H Street business rented a 4,800-square-foot warehouse in September 2020 that allowed it to store over 20,000 boxes awaiting cross-border customers.

“We used up all of the creativity we had to maximize the space we had, which is what prompted renting the warehouse,” Baron said.

Baron and other mailbox operators are mostly catering to Canadian companies that need products from the U.S. forwarded. Although business has been better, he emphasized his situation is not detrimental and he has leaned into his faith and focused on what he can control.

Todd Robinson, Security Mail Services manager, echoed Baron’s sentiments. The last year-and-a-half has been hard but with boxes stacked high around him, he said he’s in a much better place than he would have predicted.

“When [the border] first closed down, I would have never anticipated being closed this long. I thought three months, maybe, tops,” Robinson said. “I’m pleased with our standing. If you had told me it was going to be a year-and-a-half, I would have thought we would have been a lot worse off. We’ve managed. We’ve compensated for certain things. You do what you got to do to get by.”

Robinson and Baron both said they were dumbstruck when the U.S. decided not to reciprocate Canada’s August 9 border reopening.

“Shock and disappointment,” Robinson said of his reaction. “I don’t think the border ever should have been closed. They can have precautionary measures but to close something like that is going a little far.”

With double the normal number of parcels now and reduced hours, Baron said he expects to be busier than Christmas once Canadians are able to travel to Blaine. Robinson anticipates immediate rehiring and training the day a border reopening is announced.

“We look forward to normal border traffic to be restored. We value our members,” Baron said. “It’s been challenging to not have the border open.”

Other mailbox businesses couldn’t wait for the border to reopen. At the Border Mail permanently closed its business June 23.

“The pandemic and international border closures have been far too costly to our bottom line.” the business wrote on its Facebook page. “After 10 successful years in business, it is disheartening to close our doors, but the lessons we have learned and the goals we have met will be cherished.”

At the Border Mail parcels were transferred to Hagen’s of Blaine, another parcel service, for Canadians to retrieve when the border reopens to Canadians.

The past year has found its own, new rhythm. Instead of seeing familiar Canadian faces visit the store, Security Mail Services has focused on its commercial clientele who can still retrieve packages or those willing to pay extra fees for parcel forwarding. Robinson has noticed parcel forwarding slow during the past few months, which he believes is in anticipation of a border reopening announcement.

Robinson has employed a broker who charges less for border paperwork  and uses a Surrey warehouse in lieu of shipping directly to homes to cut down costs. Unlike Baron, Robinson said he didn’t need to rent a U.S. warehouse because packages stopped arriving about five months after the border closed.

Loyal cross-border customers also contribute by paying for mailbox rentals and renewing their accounts.

“I don’t know if it will be a big rush of people coming down or if people will wait for the border to settle down,” Robinson said. “The unknown of it all is the hardest part – how to plan and prepare for it.”

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