COVID-19 closure hurting Arizona border town businesses

Updated: Mar. 23, 2021 at 12:22 PM MST
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NOGALES, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -  March marks one year since the U.S. border with Mexico closed to tourism due to the pandemic. The effects on businesses in border towns like Nogales, Arizona, have been devastating.

Near the Nogales port of entry, rows of streets that were once busy with shoppers are empty. Doors are padlocked. Closed or for lease signs hang in the windows. Of the fifty-some shops on N. Morley Avenue, only about a half dozen are open for business.

Kim’s shoes recently reopened after being closed for 10 months. The owner was able to bring back only about half of his employees. Kendra Duarte is one of the employees who returned. She says before the border closure, they would see hundreds of customers a day. Now she says they are lucky to have a dozen customers walk through their doors.

“Sales are really down. I don’t know what is going to happen,” says Duarte.

Tourism is vital to the economies of border towns. When the border is open, tourists can double the population of Nogales.

Santa Cruz County Supervisor Bruce Bracker closed his family business, started by his grandparents more than nine decades ago, last March. A sign still hangs in the clothing shop window that reads the store will reopen in April. He thought it would be April of 2020. Now he’s not sure if he’ll be reopening the doors by April 2021.

Bracker blames federal policy for doing the most harm to the area’s economy. He’s calling on the Biden Administration to work with local leaders to set criteria for reopening the border. He believes as long as workers in the business districts, where most tourists limit their activities, then the ports of entry should be allowed to reopen.

“If vaccination rates are high enough in our own communities and our retail workers are vaccinated, then why wouldn’t we want to open up?” questions Bracker.

There is no current time frame as to when the border will reopen.