Small town grocer worries about Canadians crossing the border

By | March 26, 2020

WINNIPEG — There are growing concerns in a small Manitoba community near the American border.

Pat Schmitke, who owns Morris Bigway Foods, said Canadians coming home from the U.S. are stopping and shopping when they should be heading straight home to self-isolate for two weeks. 

“It seems to be that this is the first stop on their way back, and they’re stopping to pick up groceries and supplies, and they’re not heeding the warnings to stay out of the stores and self-isolate,” said Schmitke.

Bigway Foods is located about 25 minutes from the U.S. border on Highway 75. On the store’s doors, signs are posted indicating anyone who has travelled or is feeling sick should not come in the store for the safety of staff and other customers.

“The concerns are obviously the safety of our staff, and concerns about having the virus show up in our community, which is really making everybody anxious,” he said. 

Schmitke said his store offers grocery delivery, and said people also have the option to call from the parking lot where groceries can be delivered to someone’s car. He said his employees have had to turn a number of people away when they learn the customer has just crossed the border. 

“We politely and professionally approach them and say, ‘Can you just go outside, call us with your order. We’ll be more than happy to look after you, and get you on your way, but we just can’t allow you in the store at this point in time,’” Schmitke said.

Morris Mayor Scott Crick is happy to see local businesses enforcing safety measures amid the COVID-19 pandemic. He said the town of about 1,800 loves to have drivers stop and shop, but during the pandemic, he hopes people will follow recommendations. 

“To have people just basically ignoring public health orders, and thinking they can stop in town to grocery shop, even when they’ve been specifically told not to do that, it’s very disheartening,” said Crick. 

He said traffic through town has decreased lately with many Manitobans now staying home rather than heading south, but truck traffic continues to roll through as deliveries are made across the country. Crick said the new safety barriers at some locations in Morris can create challenges for truckers hoping for a break.

“We’re trying to cater to them as best as we can, with also being cognizant of the fact that we do need to keep everybody safe and protected at this time,” said Crick. 

CANADIANS RETURNING HOME

The Canada-U.S. border closed to non-essential traffic last week. 

The Canada Border Services Agency said from March 14 to 20, 959,600 Canadians and 43,890 permanent residents returned to Canada. The CBSA was unable to provide numbers for people specifically entering Manitoba, but said about 550,000 Canadians returned by air, nearly 450,000 came home by land, and about 1,500 returned by sea. 

For anyone travelling back into Manitoba, Schmitke has some simple advice. 

“I know it’s a challenging time, but if you’ve come from another country and you’re supposed to self-isolate, do yourself and all of us a favour, and do that. Please.”  

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