Before COVID, towns such as Blaine, Lynden, Sumas and Bellingham in Whatcom County, and Port Angeles in Clallam County, enjoyed a symbiotic relationship with the roughly 3 million consumers in greater Vancouver, Victoria and other Southern British Columbia communities.
But that bit of globalization ground to a halt in March 2020, when the pandemic shut the border to nonessential travelers.
Many products are considerably cheaper in the U.S. than in Canada, thanks in part to differences in the countries’ tax regimes and business practices. Gasoline, for example, can be around $1.25 less per gallon than in Canada, while milk can be around $2 less for a gallon, depending on the exchange rate, merchants say.
Incoming Canadians can also find retailers, such as Trader Joe’s, that aren’t in Canada, and a larger variety of products, says Laurie Trautman, director of the Border Policy Research Institute, or BPRI, at Western Washington University.
Another big draw: Whereas fast-growing southern British Columbia is often heavily congested, “when you drive to Whatcom County, you’re not dealing with traffic,” Trautman says.
Those attractions turned much of northern Washington into a Canadian shopping zone.