With apologies to Monty Python, let's play spot the loonie. And, having spotted it, let's also be nice to it.
A recent story in The Buffalo News shows that a number of Western New York merchants don't like accepting Canadian dollars, known as the loonie for the engraving of a loon on the coin's back. Some refuse to take it, some charge more than the going exchange rate. It sends a terrible signal to Canadian shoppers whose willingness to spend here is an important component of our retail economy.
Canadians seem to know better. They are generally accepting American dollars at par. Even though the American dollar is worth slightly more right now, there's not much direct financial advantage, given the costs of exchange. But the indirect advantages can be significant. Not only does the practice send a welcoming message by offering a convenience for tourists, the policy can help encourage shoppers to spend more.
Americans, are you listening?
One of the reasons we are trying to build a companion to the Peace Bridge is to encourage the cross-border commerce that is crucial to our regional economy. It helps everyone on this side of the border when Canadians shop here. Their sales tax dollars help keep local taxes in check. They buy meals, gasoline, clothing and more, and expect no government services. They are a net addition to the economy. All they need are reasonable prices and a little courtesy.
Customer service seems to have gone out the window in recent times, and the practice of short-sighted American merchants is testament to that unfortunate fact. The dean of Niagara University's College of Hospitality and Tourism Management put his finger on the problem. "In the long run," said Gary D. Praetzel, "that kind of behavior really hurts us from an economic point of view."
It's true that many Canadian shoppers use their credit cards for larger purchases, thus avoiding the issue altogether. Plenty don't, though, especially for smaller purchases. But it doesn't take too many minor annoyances to persuade shoppers to spend their money elsewhere. This region can't afford to turn away any customers.
We hope these misguided merchants will change their practices on accepting Canadian money, and soon. Loonies are dollars and it should be our policy to bring as many of them as possible into Western New York.