Residents, businesses in Seaway towns hopeful Canada-U.S. land border will reopen soon

With negotiations ongoing to open the Canada-U.S. land border for travellers again, businesses on both sides of the border are hoping for good news in the days ahead.

In Riverwalk Park in downtown Prescott, you can see Ogdensburg, New York across the river, but that's as close as you can get.

Most residents out for a stroll in the park on Wednesday agree it's time to open up the nearby Ogdensburg-Prescott International Bridge in Johnstown.

"I think it's time," said one woman. "If you can show that you're vaccinated, you should be able to cross."

"I think we've done everything we can do to put ourselves in a position for that," said a man from inside his truck.

"We're social distancing, most people are getting their vaccinations, there's lots of good stuff going on and I think the fear and concerns are over," he added.  "If everybody is doing what they are doing then I don't think there's any problem with the American folks coming back over."

Another man walking his dog agreed it shouldn't be a problem to reopen.

"There's a lot of cross-border traffic and we've been doing it for years. We shop on both sides of the border. We've missed it," he said.

"I'm sure there are a number of people in town who have relatives right in Ogdensburg and they are missing them too," he added.

Officials from both countries met on Tuesday to discuss border restrictions with the current rules in place set to expire on June 21.

No immediate action is expected, and it will likely be extended into July

Many businesses in New York State are ready to welcome back Canadians once again, after that state lifted most of its COVID-19 restrictions on Tuesday, including wearing masks in commercial businesses and social settings.

"Currently, our staff is 100 per cent vaccinated, both first and second doses," said Lou Williams, owner of the Inn at Gran View. "We are pretty much open as normal. I still have some plexiglass up at the registration desk and our bar service. But otherwise, we're treating our guests as normal."

"We have a lot of Canadian clientele from Ottawa that loves to come down and spend the evening with us," Williams added. "They're all missed, so it will be very nice to get the border open."

Williams added the past year has been painful for his pocketbook at the restaurant.

"For the year, it took a 60 per cent hit," he said. "The hotel was not quite as aggressive as far as our decline in sales, but, you know, it was about 50 per cent."

"We're definitely moving in the proper direction," Williams said. "Tourism within New York State has increased. Families, children, you know, kayaking on our water's edge. We just launched kayaks and paddle boards, so that's been nice."

"I think it is only proper and we need to get our lives back to what a new normal would be," he added. "I personally feel that we're quite safe and we need to live our lives."

Just east in the small town of 10,000 people, owner of the Ogdensburg UPS Store Michael Lira can't wait to see his Canadian clients again.

"My business is affected greatly," said Lira. "I designed my business around the Canadian traffic and the need for the package service here in Ogdensburg for the people of Ottawa and the surrounding area."

Lira said normally more than 3,000 Canadians would stop in a month to pick up packages, ranging in size of a ring box to car parts.

"I'd love to see them come back," Lira said. "Everyone notices that the traffic's not here that's been here normally (over the past year)."

Businesses in Prescott, also ready to see their American friends.

"It would be nice to see some Americans tourism show up in Canada," said Kevin Bunce of Rorwarders Antiques. "Just having that foot traffic here again would be great. We've got the river here, we've got diving."

"I've talked to a few (Americans), but, of course, nobody can come over or vice versa," Bunce said, adding some antique collectors south of the border have asked about items in his shop.

"It's made life a little difficult but I know I have a few people wanting to come over." he said.

While the consensus is mostly a yes to reopening the land crossings, some think waiting a little longer is a good idea.

"I don't think it should reopen yet, no," said Prescott resident Tarah, out for an afternoon walk along the water. "I think it's too soon. The cases are just going down, I don't think it's time yet."

"If they're not reopening the schools, they shouldn't be reopening the bridge," she added.

Canadian officials say they are taking a cautious approach to lifting restrictions, with early July as a timeline for fully vaccinated citizens to be able to cross.