Bellingham mall to accept dollar at par to lure cross-border Canadian shoppers
American retailers are hoping cross-border shopping incentives — such as offering discounts and accepting the Canadian dollar at par — will entice Canadians to make the journey south this May long weekend, despite the weak dollar.
Bellis Fair Mall in Bellingham, Washington — about an hour and a half’s drive from downtown Vancouver — will launch its ‘at par’ promo](https://www.bellisfair.com/en/events/at-par-sale-5448.html?intcmp=events;promotile;atx20parx20sale-at-par-sale) for Canadian shoppers during the Victoria Day holiday next weekend. Participating retailers displaying an American/Canadian flag in their shop fronts will accept the Canadian dollar at par, up to a 25-per-cent discount.
“People need to be respected. They need to know they’re appreciated and to know that we still value our customers,” said Loni Rahm, president and CEO of Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism. “This is a time when we need to be generous. We know it’s cyclical and at some point, the reverse will be true.”
Border crossings have been trending downward for some time, in response to the devaluation of the Canadian dollar. In March 2015, a total of 470,199 southbound vehicles were counted at the Blaine, Lynden and Sumas crossings. In March 2016, that number fell to 415,209. In turn, fewer cross-border shoppers has meant a significant hit to economic activity in communities such as Bellingham.
According to a study by the Western Washington University Research Institute, retail sales of clothing have dropped 11.9 per cent from the third quarter of 2014 to 2015. General merchandise sales have also plummeted 16 per cent. In total, the retail sector in Bellingham has experienced a 4.7 per cent drop.
“We’re still getting the core group of recreationalists and shoppers, and people who have very strong ties to Whatcom County and the U.S.,” said Rahm. “But we’ve kind of misplaced the spontaneous travellers, the ones who say, ‘Hey, let’s just pop over.’”
Rahm said the promotion took some time to pull together; Bellis Fair reached out to each retailer as well as corporate offices for approval before launching the promotion. To test the ‘at par’ promo, Rahm said it was initially offered in late March to those who were subscribed to the Bellis Fair and Bellingham Tourism mailing lists.
“It was just, ‘Let’s see what happens here,’” said Rahm. “It was so successful, it was the stores themselves that came back to the mall office and said, ‘We have to do this again.’”
Rahm said the promotion is meant to bring back casual and spontaneous shoppers, those who maybe don’t live as close to the border for whom trips south are more of a rarity.
The promotion will be in effect during all Canadian three-day long weekends, including Victoria Day, Canada Day, Labour Day, Thanksgiving and Remembrance Day.