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NOGALES, Ariz. (AP) Evan Kory began calling brides in the northern Mexican state of Sonora last March, asking if they wanted to get their wedding dresses at his Arizona store just before the U.S. United States are closing their borders with Mexico and Canada because of the coronavirus.

Her eponymous boutique in the border town of Nogales was popular among brides-to-be in North Sonora for its large, affordable inventory, said Kory, the third-generation owner. Located just steps from the border fence, Korys has been in business for half a century but has been closed for a year due to the pandemic, with its main Mexican clientele largely unable to come to the United States and do its shopping. races.

Some 1,600 miles (2,575 kilometers) to the north, Roxie Pelton in the border town of Oroville, Wash., Was in a similar situation. Business at his shipping and receiving store was down 82% from a year ago, as most Canadians who typically ship their orders online to his store were unable to cross the border. border by car.

Last summer, the 72-year-old let two employees go and now works alone.

I’ve made it this far, and I’m just praying that I can hold on until the border opens, Pelton said last month.

In cities bordering the United States, small businesses are reeling from the economic fallout from the partial closure of North America’s international borders. Restrictions on non-essential travel were put in place a year ago to curb the spread of the virus and have been extended almost every month since, with the exception of trade, trucking and critical supply chains.

Small businesses, residents and local chambers of commerce say the financial toll has been high, as have the disruptions to life in communities where it is common to shop, work and sleep in two different countries.

Border communities are those that depend economically, socially and yes, for health, on the daily and essential travel of tourist visa holders, ”wrote the presidents of 10 chambers of commerce in Arizona, Texas and California. in a letter last month to the Departments of Homeland Security and Transport. He called on the government to allow visitors with US tourist visas to enter their states.

As more Americans are vaccinated against COVID-19 and infection rates decline, many are hoping the restrictions will soon be relaxed.

U.S. Senator Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine, last month called on the Biden administration to reconsider restrictions on the Canada-U.S. Border, arguing that “common sense exceptions” such as family visits or daily trade should be done for border towns where infection rates were low.

However, the Department of Homeland Security announced that the United States, Mexico and Canada have agreed to extend border restrictions on non-essential travel until April 21.

Meanwhile, U.S. Democratic Representative Ral Grijalva of Arizona introduced a bill to provide small businesses within 40 kilometers of a U.S. border with loans of up to $ 500,000 or grants of up to $ 500,000. $ 10,000.

Cross-border traffic is the backbone of their economy, ”Grijalva said. And it’s the people who walk, the people who come to retail.

According to the Arizona-Mexico Commission, which promotes commerce and tourism, visitors to Mexico contribute between 60% and 70% of sales tax revenue in communities bordering Arizona.

In Texas, border towns faced higher unemployment rates during the pandemic than the state average, although in some places this has already been the case.

Jesus Caas, a business economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, said Texas border economies appear to have held up better than many predicted a year ago. In border towns like Brownsville, Laredo, and El Paso, the unadjusted January unemployment rates of 9.5%, 8.9%, and 7.4%, respectively, were close enough to the state’s rate of 7. 3% to suggest that the restrictions had less of an impact on larger, more diverse border economies than elsewhere.

What I’ve seen over the years is that the border adapts to these shocks in a very particular way, said Caas.

In Nogales, the nearly 12-month economic wear and tear of a partially closed border is easy to spot in the historic city center.

Clothing stores, currency exchange offices, second-hand stores and retailers selling plastic trinkets a few steps from the border have been closed. Many shop windows were closed.

Olivia Ainza-Kramer, president of the Nogales Chamber of Commerce, said the loss in revenue due to the drop in Mexican buyers over the past year has been felt more keenly by businesses closest to the border, which tend to be family-friendly and cater to pedestrians. buyers.

Further north, big box retailers and other stores fare a little better as they are visited by residents of the city of 20,000, she said.

Kory, owner of the bridal boutique, saw the contrast up close. His family owns three clothing stores in Nogales. Two are within walking distance of the US-Mexico port of entry and both are closed while a third is approximately four miles from the border.

Kory said his family had been successful in keeping the third store open, although sales were down 75% to 80% from pre-pandemic levels. Most of the customers are residents of Nogales, he said.

We saw the development at the international border, you know, from the 1940s on… in my family, ”he said. This is the first time that we have had a closure. “

Kory said the company has only retained four of its usual 27 employees. But based on conversations with clients in Mexico, he’s confident that once the restrictions are lifted, sales will be strong enough to rehire all those workers.

That’s the plan, ”Kory said,“ but we can’t do it until our customers are cleared through.

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