The pandemic meant quite a few changes for Ryden’s Border Store, a popular shop and parcel delivery warehouse located in northern Minnesota — just across the Canada-U.S. border crossing at Pigeon River.
Normally, the store in Cook County, Minn., was busy with travellers stopping for gas, snacks, or picking up parcels — since Ryden’s accepts deliveries for Canadians looking to save on international shipping costs. The border crossing is about 60 kilometres south of Thunder Bay, Ont.
But it’s been a long time since Lori Boomer has seen any of those scenes at her store as the pandemic, and border restrictions between Canada and the United States, dragged on for the past two years.
“We had a few tourists coming. The duty free shop closed, the gas station closed,” she said. “It’s kind of been a ghost town.”
But through it all, the parcels never stopped coming.
“We received deliveries every day,” Boomer said. “We’ve got them in every garage, every old apartment, every old motel room.”
She thinks it’s going to be “very busy” when Canadians, who no longer require a COVID-19 test if travelling to the U.S. for less than 72 hours, return.
Things at the Pigeon River crossing were slow Tuesday morning, the first day the new rules came into effect. A few cars were crossing into the U.S., but there was no rush, no lineup of vehicles.
Brian Sherburne, an administrator at Grand Portage Lodge and Casino, located down the highway from Ryden’s, wasn’t too concerned with the lack of traffic.
“It’s not going to be a floodgate of people coming down,” he said. “I think we have to be real, and realize that there’s still a lot of nervousness in this world about various variants in light of the newest one that’s just been announced.”
That variant, omicron, prompted Canada last week to restrict travel from several countries around the world.
“I think people will … make calculated decisions on when to travel and how to travel, and where to travel to.”
The casino had a good summer, Sherburne said, with visitors from elsewhere in the U.S.
Minnesota remains a hotspot for COVID-19 cases and Thunder Bay’s top health official, Dr. Janet DeMille, has warned people to take precautions if they cross into the U.S.
Sherburne says it will take “a huge confidence change” before people in Canada and the U.S. feel “confident that they can get out and travel safely and get into groups.
“A lot of the talking heads are saying don’t congregate in crowded areas, and a lot of people are afraid of that.”
“It’ll be a sigh of relief when we can see faces … we haven’t seen,” he said. “We had a guest that arrived yesterday that we haven’t seen in a year and a half, and it was so nice to be able to welcome them and say ‘Hi’ again.”
“That’s a good feeling.”