Arts & Life
Canstar Community News
For the last few months, Jeff French has been waking up at the crack of dawn each morning to fill up his half-ton truck with packages and hit the road.
He spends his days picking up deliveries from the U.S.-Canada border and vice versa to deliver them to their owners, in between being the fire chief for the RM of Emerson-Franklin and a fire paramedic for the city of Winnipeg.
"It takes a lot of hard work and a very understanding family," French joked, sitting on the porch of the small head office of Runnin’ Red Transport, just a jaunt away from the border in Emerson.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced on July 16 the closure would be extended until August. This is the fourth renewal of the shuttered border to travelers. Initially, Runnin’ Red worried how their operations would be affected. However, since the first announcement of the restriction, business exploded.
"When Amazon shut down we had to lay a couple people off because we weren’t sure what was going to happen," French said. "And then within a couple days we noticed we were getting busier and busier. We were able to bring everyone back within a couple weeks and had to hire more just to keep up with the demand."
French spends his days transporting hundreds of packages all the way from southern Manitoba to the tip of northern Winnipeg, delivering everything from racecar parts to a load of chicks to be delivered to a nearby farm. 80 percent of shipments handled by Runnin’ Red involve cross-border travel.
French and his team of 30 people have been working around the clock, answering never-ending phone calls from customers and hopping the border to retrieve packages that can’t make it on their own due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Dave Carlson, Reeve of the RM of Emerson-Franklin, said Runnin’ Red has been quite the success story for the community.
Carlson said while the community’s economy is holding up despite low numbers of visitors to the area, he worries about the well-being of residents due to their inability to hop the border to shop and socialize.
"[Residents] have friends across the border they go golfing with and shop with," he said. "So I can see how that’s been missed but I think generally the community believes that the border should stay closed until we get ahead of this thing."
On the flip side, the community has turned to local activities in the area to stay occupied including nearby campgrounds and activities on the Roseau River.
"There is a silver lining to all of this," Carlson said.
As for French, he said while he sympathizes with businesses in the area that have suffered due to the closure, it’s been an intense learning experience for him, and he hopes this will help him further grow the business.
"You can’t keep up with the demand if you grow too quick," he said. "But with the patience of customers we’ve kept going, and I’m sure we haven’t made 100 percent of our customers happy but you can’t always."
"You don’t know what that package means to that person, what if it was a birthday gift? Then I’m going to go to Winnipeg and get you that kid’s birthday gift because that’s what we do at Runnin’ Red."
-With files from Jordan Ross