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Montana businesses are ready for the US-Canada border to re-open

Quilt With Class Owner Bonnie Nickol
Jim Reiter, owner of Big Sky Foods in Cut Bank
U.S. - Canada border
canada port of entry sign
Posted at 10:47 AM, Oct 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-20 19:37:46-04

CUT BANK — With the the news of the imminent reopening of the U.S.-Canada border, you might think everybody is jumping for joy. While the reopening is generally expected to be a positive thing, not every business is expecting to see a big impact.

At Big Sky Foods in Cut Bank, owner Jim Reiter is mildly enthusiastic about the reopening of the U.S.’s northern border.

“Not sure how much of a difference it’s going to make for us personally in this building, but I’m excited for the fact people can come down and visit and get some of the goods and services prior,” said Reiter.

Goods like coffee creamer: “Coffee Mate coconut creamer is something they can’t get up there, so a gal comes down and she buys, like, 50 at a time,” Reiter explained.

Jim Reiter, owner of Big Sky Foods in Cut Bank
Jim Reiter, owner of Big Sky Foods in Cut Bank

Other businesses feel the same way.

The owner of a retail business, who didn’t want to go on camera, said he keeps Canadian currency at his register for Canadian customers but the amount of money hadn’t changed in two years.

While the reopening of the border may not be a huge windfall for his business, he’s glad the border is reopening.

In Shelby, Quilt With Class owner Bonnie Nickol is more enthusiastic. “Canadian business is 30 percent of my business,” said Nickol.

Quilt With Class Owner Bonnie Nickol
Bonnie Nickol, owner of Quilt With Class in Shelby

Not only has she missed the profit, she missed the people that provide it.

“I keep in contact with some of them. They’re friends, some of them, too. One gal e-mailed me about six months ago and said that maybe we should start considering a tunnel. She said it works at the southern border, maybe it’d work here,” said Nickol.

According to the U.S. Travel Association, the border closure is costing the U.S. economy an estimated $1.5 billion in potential travel exports each month.

The Great Falls International Airport is also ready for the border to reopen in November. Airport director John Faulkner says the airport’s traveler traffic is typically up to 20% Canadian, especially around the holidays and spring break. Faulkner said business from our neighbors to the north is key to helping the airport recover post-pandemic.

GTF ready for US-Canada border to re-open

“We certainly benefit greatly from that proximity to Lethbridge and even Calgary and Medicine Hat, so we're very anxious. And that's really one of the missing legs of the stool of our recovery is having those Canadians traveling back,” explained Faulkner.

Aside from the reopening of the border, Faulkner said another key to recovery and growth is diversification population growth and attracting more year-round tourism to North Central Montana.