BY DOUG HARLOW

Staff Writer

 

When Jim Benoit of Halifax, Nova Scotia, visited central Maine with his family for his daughter’s softball tournaments in July, he was surprised to find his Canadian dollar not welcome everywhere.

And when it was accepted, merchants were unclear what the exchange rate was and offered to swap the currency for less than it was worth, he said. In addition, he said, a pair of shorts his wife liked in a local store were $24 U.S., but $32 Canadian.

He called it insulting.

“I was very surprised at the commercial attitude toward the Canadian dollar, especially when the news is so focused on the state of the U.S. economy,” Benoit, a firefighter, said. “As a Canadian, I follow these trends closely as I have some U.S. investments.”

Benoit said he can get the proper exchange rate when using a credit card, but for a quick bite to eat or a cold drink traveling, a credit card isn’t handy.

He said he stopped at one fast food restaurant in Waterville and the cashiers would not take his money at all — even at par with the U.S. dollar. Another store offered to exchange $100 Canadian dollars for $90 U.S. — when often the exchange rate favors the Canadian currency.

“At a time when the American economy is hurting, this is certainly not the way to help stimulate any type of growth with foreign tourism dollars,” Benoit said. “Much of our purchases are with credit cards, where the dollar is appropriately exchanged, but you have to know it is a real pain in the behind when your kids want an ice cream on a hot summer day and your money is not accepted. Leaves one with a bad taste.”

Karen Hart, marketing officer and assistant vice president at Skowhegan Savings Bank, said merchants along the U.S. Route 201 corridor, a busy route for Canadian visitors, are not obliged to take Canadian money, but do so sometimes as a courtesy.

“Many merchants accept Canadian currency for purchases,” Hart said. “But from what I understand from talking to our teller supervisor here, there are some merchants that just won’t accept it.”

Jennifer Olsen, executive director of Main Street Skowhegan, said it might be a minor inconvenience to take Canadian money in a local store or restaurant and have to go to the bank to exchange it, but the good will equals good business.

Jim Harmon, executive director of the Old Orchard Beach Chamber of Commerce, a destination for many Canadian vacationers, said local shops and restaurants will accept Canadian dollars on weekends or holidays when banks are closed, but prefer visitors exchange the currency before coming to the southern Maine beach community.

He said a local bank, Saco and Biddeford Savings, will exchange the money for them during regular business hours.

“There’s no official policy here and we’re seeing less and less Canadian money, but the problem with individual businesses (exchanging money) is that the exchange rate changes and it ends up being a little bit confusing as to what to charge someone for a dinner — they’re not aware what the rate is,” Harmon said. “If they could, businesses here would prefer that the money be exchanged prior to, but I don’t think anyone’s going to refuse Canadian dollars here in Old Orchard Beach.”

At Bishop’s Store in Jackman, near the Canadian border at the other end of the central Maine corridor, owner Ray Levesque said the store accepts Canadian money at par with the U.S. dollar. He said Canadian truckers and people that work in the logging industry use Canadian money at the store.

Others, mostly vacationers, he said, usually change their money before coming into Maine.

“They’re already coming prepared,” he said of people coming into Maine. “There’s very few that are coming in with Canadian currency. The Canadian currency that I am seeing is from people that have overspent on their vacation and have run out of American money and are on their way back.”

Peter Thompson, president and chief executive officer at Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce in Augusta, said many people from New Brunswick come to The Marketplace in Augusta, as do others from Quebec passing through on their way south.

“My guess is that most restaurants would accept the Canadian money, probably at U.S. parity, because the difference is no more than a few cents,” Thompson said. “I think most people would trade it at value.”

Thompson said Canadian traffic through Maine seems to have increased because the value of the U.S. dollar is lower at times than it’s Canadian cousin. He said he can’t imagine fast food restaurants, for example, not accepting the Canadian dollar at par with the U.S. dollar.

“I know some of the businesses up along the road up through to Jackman are seeing a bit of an increased flow from the north, which is good news; that’s positive for the area,” he said. “My guess is that a lot of them are coming in all ready prepared with American money because they can buy them at the bank for the right rate.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

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