In Buffalo, Waiting for the Canadians

The reopening of the U.S. land border to Canadian travelers was good news for businesses in Buffalo. Thousands of Canadians who used to drive over to shop, dine and attend events would be coming back after 20 months. The Buffalo News ran an editorial urging Buffalonians to horn their cars when they see an Ontario license plate.

A disappointingly small number of Canadians showed up. While passenger-car traffic over the Peace Bridge at Buffalo almost doubled from the previous week, it was still 2.5 times lower than the year before.

The reopening of the border is just one example of the snail's-pace return of tourism in a world still hobbled by the Pandemic.

Mary Roberts is the executive director of Frank Lloyd Wright's Martin House, a restoration in Buffalo's Parkside neighborhood that draws 40,000 visitors a year.

The Martin House in Buffalo draws 40,000 visitors a year. About 15 percent of those visitors were Canadians.

There were three reservations for Canadian guests next week, but there was only one reservation for this week.

Ontario license plates used to be as common a sight as New Jersey plates in Buffalo. The number of people crossing into the United States in passenger vehicles via the Peace Bridge at Buffalo, the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge at Lewiston, N.Y., and the Rainbow and Whirlpool bridges in Niagara Falls, NY, was reduced by over 10 million people in 2019. The Canadian contingent at Buffalo Bills games is down from the past.

Patrick Kaler, president of the tourism agency Visit Buffalo Niagara, said that the drop-off has cost the Buffalo area $1 billion in revenue.

The Rainbow Bridge connects Ontario and New York. The regions on both sides rely on cross-border tourists.

The Ontario side of the river has lost $1 billion in travel and tourism, according to a local government study, and officials on both sides say they don't expect businesses to recover soon.

Mr. Kaler said he expected Canadians to travel to the Buffalo area more frequently in the years to come. He said business might take until 2024.

Tom Kucharski, president of the trade organization Invest Buffalo Niagara, said that international business has been disrupted.

Ms. Roberts said it would be a slow recovery. We used to cross the border to go to dinner. Canadians would come here to shop. Nobody thought about it a second time.

The U.S. government only required proof of vaccine when the border reopened. Canadians returning to Canada were required to have a negative P.C.R. test result within 72 hours of their return. Americans entering Canada had to produce a negative P.C.R. result.

The P.C.R requirement was seen as burdensome by many. Both sides of the border blamed it for the slow travel recovery.

The P.C.R. requirement will be dropped for Canadians who spend less than 72 hours in the US. They said the requirement would stay in place for Americans.

The news was good for officials in Buffalo. Canadians would start coming across in larger numbers. Recent events suggest they may not be coming to Western New York for a while.

The Toronto Maple Leafs returned to Buffalo for the first time since February 2020, but their fans made up half of the crowd, which was less than 8,000.

Toronto Maple Leafs fans descend on Buffalo whenever the team plays the Sabres at the KeyBank Center. They make up at least half of the capacity.

The Toronto Maple Leafs returned to Buffalo for the first time since February 2020, but their fans made up less than half of the crowd.

Many people attributed the low number of Canadians to the hassle and expense of having to take a P.C.R. test to return to Canada, as well as the fact that fans from both sides of the border were staying away.

Many Canadians said they had found a way to get P.C.R. tests without paying. One reason for the low number of Canadians coming across was that it was not convenient.

Several visiting Leafs fans suggested that less stringent public health practices in Western New York may have been the reason for the diminished turnout.

John Prevost, a visitor from Kingston, Ontario, spoke inside the Anchor Bar, a gathering place for visiting Leafs fans. He said he felt safe enough, but that it was different from what he was used to at home.

In Buffalo, the Anchor Bar is a favorite gathering place for visiting Leafs fans.

Wayne Gates, the member of the Ontario provincial parliament representing the communities along the Niagara River, was concerned by the sentiment. He said his people were worried about the rising infections in Western New York.

The P.C.R. test is the main reason why people aren't going to a Sabres game. They are also concerned about the vaccine rates there.

The rate of new Covid cases in Erie County was 16 times higher than in Ontario.

Most of the Ontarians are fully vaccine free. The rate in Western New York is 70%.

Canadians at the Leafs game expressed culture shock over the casual attitude toward masks in Buffalo and Western New York, where the Covid infection rate has been rising sharply.

It takes you by surprise to see everyone walking around without masks.

Andrew Jackson and his friend, who are both from Canada, were outside a restaurant near the rink. We walked in with our masks on, and we realized nobody else was wearing one, and we were like, "Oh yeah, they don't care."

Joe Wright and his son were the only people wearing masks in the pub they went to before the game. In Ontario, I need my phone to show proof that I am vaccine free, and wear a mask on my way to the washroom. None of that is here.

On Monday, Erie County imposed a mask mandate for all indoor public places.

The Shaw theater festival is held in Ontario and has suffered from the lack of U.S. visitors.

The return of Ontarians to Western New York is slow in the reverse direction. In October, I traveled from Buffalo to Toronto and back without seeing a U.S. license plate. Canadians were not traveling domestically; I only saw one out-of-province plate.

The mayor of the Canadian city of Niagara Falls said that his friends with businesses were saying there was no Americans in the city. It is creeping back at a snail's pace.

40 percent of the audience at the Shaw theater festival were American, most often from Buffalo, but in August and September only 12 to 15 percent were American.

The Shaw would attract 10 percent American at this time of year, but currently we are seeing just 2 percent, according to the festival spokeswoman.

The slow return of US visitors was noted at other places on a recent trip to the Niagara Peninsula.

On a Friday afternoon, almost all of the tourists were Canadians. In an effort to draw more Americans, some hotels are offering discounted nightly rates; at the venerable Prince of Wales, for instance, I recently found rates on Kayak starting at 221 Canadian dollars, or about $100 off.

The Honeypot Smokeshop, one of the most popular cannabis stores in the area, was one of the places that Americans were not able to visit.

The supervisor at the store said that half of the customers come from the States. All over. It is illegal to carry it over the border into the U.S. as long as they are staying here.

Mr. Finch was asked if the Honeypot has many customers from New York State.

He said yes. You would be surprised how many people call and ask us to deliver it to them in the U.S. We have to tell them no.

Western New York and Southern Ontario are sometimes called the "Niagara Frontier" because of their close proximity to each other.

Families from one country often own cottages in the other for generations. The sign at the ski resort town of Ellicottville now has a banner with Canadian flags on it.

The Bills leading scorer is from Buffalo, while the provincial parliament building in Toronto was designed by a Buffalo architect.

The mayor said that we are one city divided by a border. The bridge is close to my office. I will run out, there is a place where I can get my salads, I will get some gas, and I will run by Wegman's.

Imagine if half of the city was cut off.

Many on the U.S. side are fond of the Canadians.

Ms. Roberts said that Canada is a wise nation and that she and her husband own a cottage in Port Colborne. They are like the best of Americans.

She said that they would go to a restaurant and give their names and phone numbers as soon as they walked in. I am not denigrating U.S. citizens, but they do take it to a much more comprehensive degree of safety.

Dr. Hirji told people in the region not to travel to Western New York. He told The St. Catharines that there is so much infection on the U.S. side that you are going to be exposed to more virus.

The new mandate went into effect Tuesday. A proof-of-vaccine mandate was not imposed. The lifting of the P.C.R. requirement is unknown, given all the developments related to the P.C.R. Normal travel seems to be a long way off if the infections are rising. The only thing certain is the desire for normal times.

Mr. Kucharski hopes the Canadians don't miss him. We miss them.

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