Border mailbox stores resilient quiet holiday season

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Blaine mailbox stores are facing their busiest season of the year – the holidays – without their largest customers as the U.S./Canada border enters its ninth month closed to nonessential travel.

Scott Dodd, who owns At the Border Mail, said he makes 50 percent of his yearly profits between November and December during a normal year. 

“It’s chaos,” he said. “Packages everywhere, people everywhere and boxes all over the place.” 

But this year, the store has cut its hours from six days per week to only being open for four hours on Mondays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The company normally increases its employees’ hours by 30 percent for the holiday rush, Dodd said. 

Package pickups accounted for 11 percent of border crossings in 2018, Laurie Trautman, director of Western Washington University’s Border Policy Research Institute, previously told The Northern Light. According to a 2020 study published by the institute, Canadians were estimated to spend at least $24,597,461 at Blaine retail locations in 2018. This is the second highest in the county after Bellingham. 

“I really don’t understand. We’re allowing Canadians to pile onto an airplane and visit the U.S. but we’re not allowing Canadians to be in their car by themselves to pick up their parcels,” Dodd said. “It’s obviously a political game.” 

Dodd, who grew up in Blaine, said he saw a business opportunity after seeing Canadians repeatedly cross the border to pick up packages and decided to start his company in 2011. At the Border Mail, which overlooks the 543 truck route border crossing from its front door on 12th Street, now only has about 1 percent of its normal holiday customers. Most of these customers, Dodd said, are Canadians with essential jobs in the U.S. 

Meanwhile, Dennis Wilson, co-owner of Edge Logistics and Transportation, has used the transportation aspect of his business to get goods across the border to Surrey, B.C., and Point Roberts.

Wilson said his company is transporting parcels at least four times per week to their warehouse in Surrey. He said Canadians have slowed sending packages to Blaine but the company is still receiving Canadian business. 

“Of course it’s down from previous years but we’re starting to see an uptick in packages,” Wilson said of the holiday season. “We haven’t seen the true amount of packages coming in.”

Once the border opens, both Wilson and Border Mailbox and Parcel owner Doug Hornsby said they’re anticipating an influx of Canadians coming for their packages.

“We’ll be here when the border finally opens,” Hornsby said. 

Hornsby said his volume normally doubles with Black Friday and Christmas sales, but this year he’s running at 10 percent of normal business.

There’s not much community members can do to help mailbox stores when 98 percent of their clientele are unable to pick up their packages, he said. 

Despite business being a fraction of its normal pace, Dodd said his store resembles what it would look like during a normal holiday season. 

“Our packages are everywhere,” Dodd said. “This looks like Christmas but it’s a backlog of packages from March.”

 

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