In Buffalo, Waiting for the Canadians

“My friends with businesses are saying there’s no Americans,” Jim Diodati, the mayor of Niagara Falls, Ontario, said earlier this month about his city, which in 2019 hosted 14 million visitors, about 3.5 million of them free-spending Americans. “It’s creeping back at a snail’s pace.”

At the Shaw theater festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, where 40 percent of prepandemic audiences were American, most often from Buffalo, audiences in August and September were only 12 to 15 percent American.

“At this time of year for our holiday shows, the Shaw would attract 10 percent American, but currently we are seeing just 2 percent,” said Ashley Belmer, the festival spokeswoman.

The slow return of U.S. visitors was noted at other places on a recent trip to the Niagara Peninsula — from Matty Matheson’s Meat and Three takeout barbecue joint in Fort Erie, to the Flying Saucer diner in Niagara Falls, to the butter tart epicenter Niagara Home Bakery in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Nevertheless, on a Friday afternoon, strolling tourists filled Niagara-on-the-Lake’s picturesque streets and shops — it’s just that they were almost all Canadians. In an effort to draw more Americans, some hotels are offering discounted nightly rates; at the venerable Prince of Wales, for instance, I recently found rates on Kayak starting at 221 Canadian dollars, or about $180 (about $100 off).

There was, however, one exception to places noting absent Americans: the Honeypot Smokeshop, among the most popular of stores selling cannabis in Niagara Falls since the retail sale of marijuana products was permitted throughout Ontario in April 2020.

“About half our customers come from the States,” said Don Finch, a supervisor at the store. “Wisconsin, Tennessee, Texas, all over. We have to remind them that it’s illegal to carry it over the border into the U.S. But as long as they’re staying here, it’s OK.”

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