Cross Border Shopping Blues for Upstate NY Self Inflicted. By Jamie Gilcig 112719

Cross Border Shopping Blues for Upstate NY Self Inflicted.  By Jamie Gilcig 112719

Growing up in Montreal in the 70’s led me, as well as thousands of my fellow near border Canadians to spending time in Upstate NY.

My dad being my dad we ended up owning a few houses, and after having breakfast in a “joint” called Ma Coakley’s kitchen. After eating breakfast there one Saturday morning he ended up owning that too.

When the Quebec crisis hit in the 70’s I even went to school which was actually pretty awesome.

I’ve been a long time cross border shopper. There are a lot of amazing people and places in Vermont and Upstate NY.

However over the years things have changed. Economies, online shopping, and every so often the cycle of larger dollar differences.

In 2019 it costs us Canucks around 1/3rd more for every dollar we spend. That’s a lot and the reality is that of course it will chill down some spending.

But some habits die hard and for many we still like heading to America for some fun and frolic.

Recently there was a US story about some issues with cross border shopping with some real nonsense spouted. LINK

For example Cornwall doesn’t have 50,000 people, the real number is probably closer to 38,000.

The major areas in this area are Plattsburgh, Malone, Massena, and at the extreme end Ogdensburg and Watertown. A bit further is my fave, Burlington Vermont, and even Potsdam (Hi Sean Harley!) has some fun to offer.

It’s not all about money, but Veterinary Tourism is a happening thing. Especially for folks from Ottawa or those in Cornwall. Vets like Dr. Perez at Java’s Veterinary Clinic offer great service at prices that make the trip worth it.

There are tons of events and tourism features in the area too, but for one reason or the other they neglect this huge market just over the border.

Advertising and marketing don’t seem targeted to we Canadians, but in many cases we simply don’t get enough love when we try and spend our money.

Tip number one. Never use a debit card. You can get double bank fee’d and then pay exchange on the total plus the fees. I made that mistake when $25US in gas ended up costing me $37 CDN! Always use your credit card or have US cash on you as most retailers, if they accept your Canadian currency, will gouge you blaming their local bank.

Fair exchange tells us you value our business. It’s not like we expect you to take our cash at par; although I’ve seen a few smart restaurants still do that on special days.

It all comes down to how you treat your customers. All business is a challenge, but to survive you need your clients return business. You need us to tell our friends.

Ironically I called Trombinos who were featured in the US story once to try and sell them a topical ad in a story I was writing here on CFN. I spoke with the owner, shared that the fee was tiny and that I was a regular client.

I’d spend nearly $50 six to eight times per year. I’d tell people about the place. When my sorta famous photographer friend from Ireland visited we ended up at…Trombinos.

Since that exchange I’ve never returned and this is the first time I’m mentioning them. It wasn’t that they didn’t buy an ad, but simply the disrespectful manner in which they handled it.

A Smoke House opened in the area and we write restaurant reviews. We sent out a message to them and had crickets back. So even though I’m partial to a good piece of brisket I never attended that joint.

If clients don’t feel valued we don’t return. And feeling valued rarely costs money.

That could be how NY news outlets end up writing headlines like

Towns that depend on Canadian tourism see hastening decline

When we live on the border, whether to NY, Quebec, or Ontario there are always some amazing adventures and things to do. It’s great to be able to sneak off for a few hours and experience something different than home.

It’s up to the merchants to make sure we come back with smiling faces and want to return. Until that changes enough we sadly will probably see more negative headlines.

So what can US merchants and destinations do?

Treat Canadians like valued customers.

Offer fair exchange rates even if it means finding another bank or source to exchange back those Canadian dollars that you wouldn’t have otherwise.

Create promotions to attract Canuck Bucks.

Advertise and Market to us Canadians. If we don’t know how special you are or aren’t reminded about you we might get distracted by other opportunities. Ads in real newspapers (especially this one 🙂 ) really do work, and usually much better than social media.

For example social media is only about 33% of our traffic here on CFN. We also have seven social media channels including our main facebook page.

I know it means actually doing a bit more effort and communicating with a live human; but isn’t your business worth that?

Let us know you really appreciate us when we give you our money. All customers deserve this, but those that drive from distances appreciate it more.

I recently had a gruesome experience in Plattsburgh NY. We were coming home from Montreal and I wanted my step daughters to see this great bookstore I grew up with there.

We arrived in the afternoon and the store was closed on a Friday with a note left in the door. For whatever reason the owner decided to leave it closed with no notice on their website or facebook page.

I sent him a note through messenger and he apologized and said he’d be back by a certain time. So having driven nearly 100KM already with an equally long trip back home to Cornwall we stuck around.

When we returned to the store at the appointed time it was still closed with subsequent rude messages from him.

What do you think the odds are that I’ll ever return to that store? Do you think that’ll help the pizza place across the street where we had some great slices or the totally amazing coffee shop and art house next door to the book store that blew us away with it’s lovely vibe? (They were nice enough to let us wait awhile for the store to open).

Again, it’s important to keep the punters happy.

At the end of the day people can run their businesses as they please, but if you truly want people’s hard earned dosh you have to give them a reason to keep giving it to you.




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