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Bittersweet anniversary for popular Point Roberts parcel service

Pandemic means parcel service will process about 1,000 items this month compared to 11,000 a year ago
Point to Point parcels
Point to Point parcel service's 20th year of operation has been a tough one amid the pandemic. Most of its businesses these days is forwarding items to its loyal Canadian customers. Photo by Point to Point

A milestone anniversary last month for a popular Point Roberts parcel service was greeted with mixed emotions.

Point to Point, which is a mere few hundred feet away from the Canada/U.S. border, turned 20 in the midst of what normally would be its most hectic time of the year. All that changed when the border was closed to essential travel back in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A year ago, 11,000 packages arrived at the business in December. This month they will be lucky to hit 1,000.

“To see where it has built from 20 years ago and then what has happened since March is devastating,” said co-owner and general manager Beth Calder. “I feel like we are back at square one where you are getting 50 packages a day. That you might as well go back to a manual system. That’s the scary part.”

Calder says it would normally take 10-to-11 employees to handle all the processing during the busy season. Instead, it’s her and one other staff member working three-hour shifts on just a weekday schedule after seven employees were laid off in March.

The business’ lease on the property, that also includes a sizable warehouse, expired in October but Calder is grateful she is dealing with a compassionate landlord, although she is hoping for a better rate.

“We have been in good talks, but we are paying premium top dollar for where we are at and I’ve discovered no one pays the level we pay. It’s an eye opener. It’s like we are in Ladner paying Robson Street rent,” laughed Calder. “We have good talks and they want to see us here. We are grateful for that.”

Loyal customers keep business going

What has kept the company going is a very loyal customer base and a forward mailing service that was already in place prior to the pandemic.

“There are some, for the eight or nine months the border has been closed, are religiously mail forwarding if not every week then every couple weeks. They are still buying and having us re-package their shipments together and forward them on (to Canada),” said Calder. “I guess they are very specific buyers. They like who they buy from, they like the quality clothes, shoes or whatever reason.

“There are certain rates that I embedded in my head since we’ve been doing it non-stop for nine months. There is a lot of work and I think some customers don’t realize we are not making a killing here. More like pennies on the dollar. That’s why a lot of stores in the U.S. market will not offer international shipping because they know if they have to charge what it cost to the customer, they wouldn’t order.”

Calder is amazed to see some customers still order large items such as sofas or weight lifting systems that requires a Canada Customs bonded trucking company based in Bellingham (Point Roberts Auto Freight) to deliver the items to a location in Tsawwassen for pick-up.

Parcels make long journey before crossing border

She also has to always explain the unusual route for parcels to Canada travel through the U.S. Postal Service.

“I could literally kick a parcel from here to a home on First Avenue in Tsawwassen, but, instead, they are driven by truck from here to San Francisco where they first clear US customs before being flown to YVR where they go through Canadian customs before going to Canada Post and being delivered,” added Calder. “I have people tracking their package asking me why it has ended up in California. I don’t know why there isn’t a customs clearance facility in say Seattle.”