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Local businesses benefit from strengthening Canadian dollar

The strength of the Canadian dollar is increasing and North Country businesses are noticing. With the value of the loonie now almost at par with the U.S., tourism appears to be increasing as many Canadians flock to big box retailers, mom-and-pop shops and hotels south of the U.S.-Canada border. Just last week I had a $27,000 sale, said Shawn Kneussle, owner of Kneucraft Fine Jewelry and Design. It was an anniversary gift for a Canadian man to his wife. That sale, while exceptional, is anything but typical, said Mr. Kneussle. However, the local businessman has noticed an increase in serious buyers perusing his merchandise and others in the City of Plattsburgh. Big-box retailers such as Kmart are among those also seeing increased patronage, with a sea of cars seen in their parking lots on recent weekends. Its been huge, said Plattsburgh Kmart store manager Robin Audette. Weve been steady since the summer. According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesperson Kevin Corsaro, though he has no official numbers, the amount of Canadian day-trippers crossing the border is on the rise. Tourism appeared to be up across the board, said Mr. Corsaro. Were seeing that in Buffalo and in the Champlain region, and I certainly think the strengthening Canadian dollar had a part to play in that. Weve definitely seen a big difference and I think thats because of the strength of the Canadian dollar, agreed Karen Billings, co-owner of the Point Au Roche Lodge, located in the Town of Beekmantown. The eight-bedroom lodge, said Ms. Billings, has seen increased traffic coming off State Route 9 and Interstate 87, especially in recent weeks. As Canadians come for the weekend to shop, many need a place to stay, with businesses like the Point Au Roche Lodge being able to capture that tourism dollar. The lodges occupancy has continued to remain strong since the summer months, almost parallel with the Canadian dollar, Ms. Billings said. She added she anticipates occupancy will remain strong even into the winter months, if the Canadian dollar remains strong as well. Michelle Powers, director of the Champlain Shores Visitors and Convention Bureau, a division of the Plattsburgh-North Country Chamber of Commerce, couldnt agree more. This is an absolutely wonderful thing, said Ms. Powers. Last year, we saw the best summer weve seen in 15 years, and this year, by all accounts even though all the numbers arent in yet looks like an even better increase than last year. Obviously, the Canadian dollar has impacted tourism in this area. Though increased commerce is important to the North Country economy, its the lasting relationships that can be formed with our neighbors to the north that can also beneficial, said Ms. Powers. Though they stopped coming across the border in the same numbers, Canadians have maintained a wonderful relationship with Plattsburgh and Clinton County in general, said Ms. Powers. Now, weve got to focus on welcoming those back to the area who have been hesitant until now and welcome the new generation of Canadians coming here for the first time. Marketing is what we need to focus on and thats exactly what were doing. To that end, the chamber of commerce is hosting its second annual exhibit at the Montreal International Tourism and Travel Show, in downtown Montreal Friday, Oct. 26, through Sunday, Oct. 28. The focus, said Ms. Powers, will be on marketing both Plattsburgh International Airport and the Adirondack Coast area. We intend to show Canadians what we have available throughout the year, said Ms. Powers. For Adirondack-region tourism officials, the stronger Canadian dollar is all good news. Dirk Gouwens, vice president of marketing and brand development for the Lake Placid Essex County Visitors Bureau, said there was a notable increase in Canadian tourism to the Lake Placid region as well. With the U.S. and Canadian dollar on par with each other we expect to see continued growth in visitation from Canadians throughout the winter months and into next year, said Mr. Gouwens. Mr. Gouwens explained that about 15 years ago, 30 percent of total tourism business came from Canada, but those numbers fell into the single digits after the Canadian dollar weakened. Now, Canadian business is about 20 percent of the total. Growing back to where we were in the past and possibly higher would be very good for our region, said Mr. Gouwens. Another effect is the decrease of American tourists visiting Canada, Mr. Gouwens continued. In addition to increased numbers of Canadians crossing the border to visit the Adirondacks, there have been fewer U.S. residents crossing into Canada to visit Canadian resorts. This has led to increased visitation from U.S. residents to the Adirondack region. For the past 10 years or so, it has been a bargain for us to visit Canada. This is no longer the case and Americans are choosing to stay at home, said Mr. Gouwens. Tri-Lakes Today editor Whitney Jackson contributed to this report.

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