When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the Canada/U.S. border closed, putting great stress on businesses and families on both sides who depend on international traffic.
In this episode, Toby Mathis of Anderson Advisors talks to Lars Jacobson, a businessman, and entrepreneur who has owned and operated his own businesses for more than 20 years.
Lars and his family left Southern California and moved to the panhandle of Idaho. He expected to semi-retire, buy 100 acres of land, and become a farmer. However, plans changed. In June 2019, Lars and his family acquired the “Little Town of Porthill, Idaho” which includes a convenience store, gas station, restaurant, and package depot on the Canadian border.
- Picking up Packages: People don’t want to ship packages from the United States to Canada because it’s so expensive to get them across the border.
- Starting a Business: After living in southern California, Lars shared things by learning, traveling, and teaching entrepreneurialism.
- Forget about Retiring: After a year or so, God told Lars to buy a town. Wait, what? Pray about it and make it a family adventure.
- God is Good: Business was fantastic and awesome, but when the coronavirus hit, the border closed, and God gave Lars a challenge. Whatever happens, persevere.
- How much longer until the border opens? Remain hopeful and keep calling because nobody seems to have a clue.
- What about the Americans? The closest town nearby has a couple of supermarkets, gas stations, and fast food, but is about a half-hour away and costs much more money.
- Got Money? The Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDLs) and Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) were supposed to be given to people and businesses that needed it.
- Was it enough? No, Lars’ business is losing more than $10,000 monthly and still cutting back. All the employees were laid off except a maintenance person. Everybody’s gone.
- Financial and Emotional Impact: Consider every option and do everything possible after losing what you worked so hard for all your life. Get yourself and your assets and liabilities structured, organized, and prepared.
Full Episode Transcript:
Toby: Hey, guys. This is Toby Mathis with the Anderson Business Advisors podcast. Today, we have a really serious topic. I have a good friend, Lars Jacobson. Hey Lars.... Read Full Transcript
Lars: How are you doing, Toby?
Toby: I’m doing fantastic. Everybody else has been doing great, but Lars has one of those businesses where he’s absolutely had the snot kicked out of him. I’ve known Lars and his family for the better part of 20 years and I could tell you that this is a story that needs to be heard.
The point is that you have a restaurant, a gas station, and you actually receive mail for Canadians because it’s literally closer for them to pick up their packages from your store than it is to go—what’s the closest town in Canada where they could go?
Lars: It’s not just the fact that there’s a town in Canada, it’s that they don’t want to ship it from the United States to Canada. It’s so expensive to get it across the border. It takes an extra two or three weeks. The ease of these good folks that live in Creston BC, Canada, they just drive five or six miles down across the border—we’re right on the border—and pick up their packages. In June of 2019, we purchased this, we moved to Idaho.
Some people might know me and might be curious. Just a little background, real brief. I lived in Southern California, born and raised my whole life. I shared the things that I learned, traveled, and taught entrepreneurial things. You and I have known each other since 98 or 99 or something—way, way back. God said, take your family and go to Idaho, so my wife and I took our 10 kids and moved to Idaho.
Toby: Ten kids to Idaho. You basically bought a town, right?
Lars: That wasn’t the initial plan, but all the other kids came with us. They have their own lives and stuff. The five are in their 20s or 30s. We all came—one granddaughter, everybody. My thought was I’m just going to retire, buy a farm, and just do a little gentleman farming type of thing. We’re semi-retired and do some cool entrepreneurial things like I’ve done my whole life.
We got here and after a year or so God said, buy this town. Wait, what? No, I don’t want to retire, but my family, we’re spiritual individuals so we took the time to really contemplate it, pray about it. It was a whole family adventure. In June of 2019, we bought what was billed out as the little town of Porthill. It used to be an incorporated area, it’s now unincorporated. It’s right at the border, tip top of panhandle of Idaho. The previous owners over time had bought up everything.
There was a convenience store, they added a gas station. Across the street was this package depot center and another gas station. Back on our side of the street gone a little way, there’s a restaurant. We’ve got rentals up there, hostel, a home. We’ve got about 900,000 feet of riverfront property around the Kootenay river, it flows north into Canada.
It’s a very unique and wonderful place. I was told it was the second-lowest elevation in the whole state of Idaho. We don’t get snow like Southern Idaho, Utah, or Montana get. We’re just in this little valley where when we got snow, it got cold. Texas got it worse than we did this year. They’ve got it worse than probably a lot of places.
It’s just a beautiful place, and a very successful business. The previous owners have done an awesome job over their 15–20 years of developing relationships with the Canadians and service. We just came in there and I kept one of the previous owners. It was a mother and a father, and then their son and his wife. We kept the son with us and his family on property.
They were living on property for a year just for the transition because they bought it and added each part. We’re buying the whole thing. It was just going great. I mean, fantastic, Toby. I just really was like, wow this is awesome, God is good. And God’s always good, but when Corona hit and then they closed the border, God said I’m going to give you a challenge.
Toby: How much of your business got cut off?
Lars: Close to 95% of our business was gone literally overnight. When that border closed, it was it. The funny thing is at the time, the Canadians were calling us, hey we’re still going to send packages to you because this will be about a month or so. They originally said it would last a month, until April 21st. And here we are, coming up on a year.
We’ve got 2000 packages sitting in there because some trickle in because people are hopeful. They keep calling us. Everyday they call us and they go, when is the border going to open? I don’t have a clue, I wish I could give the answer.
Toby: They can literally be at your structure, your building, but they can’t walk over there and get it.
Lars: There are some folks that I can see their house. The town of Creston is about five or six miles from us.
Toby: Or you could just slingshot these.
Lars: I know. That would be great if we could literally get the packages to them, but we have been told by the United States Postal Service not to try and send anything because we don’t know what’s in the package, we don’t know what the duty that would need to be charged is, and these things.
Toby: For all the people out there who think they have a solution—put it all on a truck and take it over there—you can’t, because you don’t know what’s in the package. You can’t do your duty, you can’t do the customs claim.
Lars: Right. And it’s not just the package. The package is a great service. I’ll give you an example. The school district up there sends their books to us. The library up there sends their books to us. All businesses. We’ve got engines and tires, pieces of airplanes shipped to us, you name it. And then they come down, pick it up, and take it back because they can ship in the US like Amazon—two-day shipping prime for free and all that stuff. Not into Canada. But they can ship it to us, come down the next day, pick it up, and we charge them. The average is $3.
When they come down, they fill up fuel. Right now I believe we’re charging 65 cents a liter, and in Canada I last heard in Creston, it was $1.19 a liter. Even with the conversion rate, they’re saving about $1 a gallon when you convert it and then convert it back into US where we can understand it. It’s just amazing.
They stop into the store. We would make a run down two hours to Costco—the closest Costco from Porthill is in Coeur d’Alene—and we would load up on cheese and everything that they wanted. We’d get their six packs, we’d get whatever. And they would come into the store and load up on all the stuff that to them, tastes better, is a lot less expensive, and it’s so convenient for them because we’re just 10 minutes down the road.
Toby: The other thing they’re going to say is, what about the Americans? Why aren’t they coming up there? You’re closer to the Canadians. This is literally a situation where if I was taking a snapshot, you’re just at the edge of town. Then there’s another town a long ways away that’s in the United States, that they’d be driving half an hour away just to use your gas station.
Lars: Yeah, the closest town to us that has a couple of supermarkets, gas stations, and fastfood and all of that is about a half hour.
Toby: You lost 95% of your business because the government provided a shutdown, and I don’t begrudge decisions, it’s just here’s the ramification. The outcome stimulus, the EIDL loans, the PPPs, all these things, they dump money in the States and they say make sure it gets to the people that need it. Did you get any of the money that you needed?
Lars: We did get some money. We got a little bit of drafts and some loans, mostly loans, which adds to the liability side of my balance sheet. It has to be repaid back even though it’s low-interest. It’s a negative, but it did keep us afloat. We’re losing right now. We’re cutting back, we laid all the employees off except one maintenance guy. Everybody else is gone.
All my family, we haven’t taken a dime, not a penny, out of the business since it closed last March. All the employees, gone. We had about a dozen employees, so everybody’s been hammered from this. Shoot, what was your question Toby?
Toby: It was all about the stimulus. You had to lay everybody off, right? You don’t even have…
Lars: We got some stuff, but the problem is even with doing all of those things and reducing as much of the expense and overhead as possible, we’re still in the neighborhood of five figures. We’re over the five-figure mark in loss, hard cash every month.
Toby: That’s on a monthly basis. I want people to have that sink in for a second. In your operation, you’re talking about losing more than $10,000 a month.
Lars: It is well over $10,000.
Toby: Yes, because you have a combination of the convenience store, gas station, restaurant, package depot, you have everything all wrapped up. You have all aspects and they shut it all.
Lars: Our sales in a month right now—for an entire month—equal about a day a year ago.
Toby: Wow, and in the middle of it, of course, when it rains it pours. We don’t have to get into all of this, but I know that they shut your water off. You’re part of an association and just because they could, they decided to flex some muscle. It was off for what, a day or two? Before you were able to…
Lars: There are a few members of the association that were having some difficulty with the current work, and they just made some decisions that have been incredibly unbelievable.
Toby: It’s just the joy of having to deal with crabby human beings when bad things are going on. Sometimes they like to rear their heads and show just how bad our species can be. I could say it from personal experiences, Lars got to deal with that full-on brunt when somebody was being taken down, let’s just pile on. I want to do the opposite.
The reason I wanted to give Lars an audience here, (a) I’ve known him forever, (b) is to teach folks he’s one of the first people that was teaching on the stock market, how to get involved, and handle your personal accounts back before it was in vogue—this was in the 90s—on how to actually take control of their own finances.
He was fairly independent, was independently wealthy, bought a town and does what a lot of Americans say. You got out of California, you live in somewhere-ville Idaho, bring your whole family, and then this happens. I can’t even imagine what’s going through your head when that’s going on.
Lars: You know, 2016 is when we decided that we were going to move out here to Panhandle of Idaho. Then we got here in 2017 and it’s been just an incredible experience. There’s no doubt. We can literally look to miracles and see the hand of heaven in all that we’ve done. Look, God gives challenges.
If anybody is a believer, they know that. Read the scriptures or just look at people’s lives. Your challenges will be different from mine, but they’re going to be challenges unique to us. They’re tailor-made—someone once told me—and that’s so true. I’m no better than anybody listed in scripture. God asked people to go do stuff and their reward was death. After a prophet testified and worked the gospel, they were stoned or something.
I’m not going to complain. I’m just saying, what has happened is extremely severe and whatever God wants, that’s great for me and for so many other people up here. I’m just one person, one family, but for so many other people along this border, it’s been a devastation. Literally. One day the light’s on, and the next day it’s off.
Toby: I’m down here in Las Vegas, and we have our entire arts industry just turned on its head. I have great producers, some awesome people, same scenario. Everything gets shut off for them, we have this huge stimulus that they’re just dumping on to the economy and we’re seeing people’s savings accounts getting bigger. They’re bigger than before the economy, they’re just going to give stimulus and give them more. Doesn’t seem very targeted, does it?
Lars: Those people who are still able to work, if they’re in a job that didn’t have a shutdown or have some type of negative impact or maybe it was brief, more power to them. I’m grateful to those people, that their situation is good, and their savings accounts are growing. But our revenues are gone, and everything between what I had in reserve, my whole life, and what we got from the government in loans and a little bit of grants…
Toby: You have 10 family members. You have 10 kids, plus you and your wife. You have your mother, some other relatives too, right?
Lars: My mother moved up here. My mother-in-law moved up here. I have four brothers and sisters, and their families that moved up here. Yeah, it’s been a wonderful experience, absolutely.
Toby: I know you’re not saying that tongue-in-cheek. It’s great to have all your family there, but how does it feel for you? This whole situation, the emotional impact. How has it impacted you?
Lars: It’s hard to see everything you’ve done your whole life gone and go up in smoke.
Toby: But you’re still resolute, aren’t you?
Lars: God is good. We’re looking at every option and doing everything we can. There’s no doubt. Even now. And you’ve been wonderful. I can’t even say enough about you and […]. It’s true, and I’ve said that. When I taught people anything entrepreneurial, it was you need to get yourself structured, you need to get yourself organized, you need to have things prepared—liabilities side and financial side—and you guys are the best. I think that’s probably why our friendship has been such a strong one over the few decades now that we’ve known each other.
You just provided a wonderful thing, and I love teaching wonderful things. It was just a match made in heaven I guess. But now with no income at all, from our entire little town, 95% of your customers are on the other side of the border that no one can cross, except for truck drivers. It’s amazing.
Toby: Somehow, truck drivers don’t convey the […]?
Lars: No. For full disclosure, there are a few businesses up in Creston that can come down and get their packages because there’s whatever registered, whatever it is that they can do that commerce, so there’s the little 5%. And we have a few people in our community up in Porthill, but it’s just a few families up there, we’re in very very rural areas. That’s not a lot.
Toby: It’s interesting you say that. What do you think Canada and the United States, if you could get Trudeau and President Biden together, what would you say?
Lars: Oh boy, I don’t want to get too political on you.
Toby: Just about the opening of the border, would you say, let’s use some common sense on this.
Lars: Well, COVID is real. My wife’s uncle passed away just last month, and I’ve had family members. It’s real. But from my understanding, what I’ve looked at, there are so many more negative things happening with suicide rate, depression, people not getting checked, heart attack, diabetes, all these things. We have to weigh both sides in this issue.
Idaho is not locked down like so many other places. On the eastern side of British Columbia, western side, they’ve got Vancouver. They don’t have a lot of activity with the virus. My suggestion is why not let folks come down? Say they crossed for half an hour. They can’t even go to the closest city, which is only 2500 people. They can’t even go that far. Why can’t they cross, get some groceries, get some gas, get their packages, and go back? As long as they’re back within 30–45 minutes, I don’t see them adding […].
Toby: You have one hour to get back or you’re going to be quarantined.
Lars: Canada’s serious about this. We have some folks that got to cross early on. We’re talking last April or May and I’m like, how did you get across? They don’t stop at the Canadian. They stop at the US Port of Entry to get in. They were being a little more lenient as it turned out. I said would you, when you go back, let me know what happens when you cross the Canadian Port of Entry?
They were calling us up and going, they are fining us $1000, they are requiring us to be in our house for 14 days, quarantined. One gentleman was stopped at the store, he was told by the Port of Entry people, you have to go home and quarantine for 14 days, we’ll check on you. And they do.
So on the way home to his house in Creston, he stopped at the store to get some food because he’s going to be gone for 14 days. When he comes out of the grocery store, authorities are waiting at the car and fined him $1000 for not driving straight home. But if you’re a business and you have the proper paperwork, you can come down.
We’ve got a business up there that $150,000 a year he sends to us and he comes to pick up for his business up there. He’s allowed to cross, but they told him you can’t get personal packages like in Christmas time. His wife’s ordering stuff on Amazon for the kids, shows up at our place. Those packages are not allowed to come across if they’re not a business.
It doesn’t make sense. So COVID can’t be on the business package because COVID knows better, because it’s illegal. The package sitting right next to it on the shelf that said his name personally can’t come across.
Toby: Obviously, we could do better. We could be more targeted in how we help people. We could be focusing on the people that are really suffering. One of the frustrations of a business owner was when this hit, we had the first waves of the pandemic on insurance for unemployment coverage.
We had people denying new jobs, saying no to being offered jobs because they made more on the unemployment, and we keep going back to that, well they’re not making a dent in the lower income unemployment effect. People over $60,000, unemployment’s dropped. People under $27,000, unemployment’s gone really high because frankly, you’re crazy to work. You make more without it.
Lars: It’s true. We didn’t have a need to call our employees back because there was no work. They were making more being unemployed with the extra $600 a week that they were giving initially, now it’s $300 I think.
Toby: $300 a week plus extra.
Lars: Yeah, extra, whatever their unemployment would have been. My employees, why would they want to come back when they’re at home making hundreds?
Toby: Thank God that there’s that support for your employees, otherwise we’d probably have posers on AllSearch because you have all these people that are signing up.
Lars: There would be a lot of hardship. I don’t begrudge any of that. I laid them off saying, make sure that you save because of COVID and the border closure, because you’re going to get this benefit. I wanted them to receive that.
Once things change, the border opens up, we’ll bring back whoever we can and see what customers start to come down. There might be some that are still a little iffy at the beginning, but we’ll see what happens. We want to get back to work. Obviously, we want to do that.
Toby: Lars, you gave me a little video that I’ll cap on to the end of this, where somebody put together a really nice […].
Lars: Let me just say something really quick about that. One of the blessings that have come from all of this is we’ve met people that we would have probably never met before. This good friend of ours, his name is Troy, he’s into marketing and all these things and he heard about our plight.
He literally just showed up and said, I want to help you guys. He said, I’m going to do some videos, I’m not going to tell you what I’m doing, but bring the family up, stand altogether, point there, wave here, give me a thumbs up at the counter end. A week later he comes back and he goes, look what I did. And he showed us this video, and we were just blown away.
We have a GoFundMe, not because we did it. Another person in the community says, hey Lars we started this GoFundMe for you. Wow, amazing. There are so many good people out there, Toby. You know […], but to see it happen for you and your family the way that it has?
It’s hard to cover five figures a month from donations and it’s just not possible, but they have prolonged our business a little bit. We’re here at the end. If something doesn’t break soon this is going to be it for us.
Toby: Here’s a simple request. I’m going to play that video. I’m going to actually not do it via my computer. I’m going to have it tacked on the end of this so you guys can actually see it, so it doesn’t look like it’s being played on somebody else’s screen, a video being captured. I’ll send it out there. What I think you guys can do to help Lars and his family, that would be very helpful.
There are hundreds of businesses like Lars’ that are on the border that have been impacted like this. You saw that in the earlier video all the way in Montana, all the way in the East Coast. If you go to New York, I’m sure lots of places where they’re being impacted up there. They’re the lost ones in this whole thing.
Why don’t we talk about our southern border? Whenever we talk about our northern border, that northern border is really, really critical to all the businesses that are sitting right on the south side of that northern border. On the US side, you have a lot of commerce with Canada, and that’s just absolutely been turned off, 95% at the minimum.
Lars, I don’t think you’re alone and I know we have a lot of really cool people that will probably try to help. I’ll put that up, and then I’ll give you guys a little update on what’s going on with Lars and his family. I know they’re going to pass some more stimulus, hopefully there’s something in there that we’re able to take advantage of.
Hopefully there’s something there in Idaho where they’re going to help their small businesses like yourselves, restaurant owners like yourselves, before you get shut down. You just need to get a quadruple whammy on this one.
Last question for you. Out of this whole pandemic, does it give you a positive view of people’s humanity or a negative view of people’s humanity after everything that’s going on?
Lars: Definitely positive. We’ve seen some negative, there’s been a few of those. You alluded to one with our water situation. But over and above, the majority, it’s just been amazing to see what people have done.
We have neighbors that came to us. They go, we raise pigs, we’re going to donate a pig. Another guy’s pitching in to donate, and we’re going to have a pig in at Jake’s Landing in Porthill and a fundraiser for you, and they’re setting that up for next month. It’s like, wow.
Toby: You guys don’t know this. I remember it, during Christmas you did the Christmas village, right? You were still doing the Santa Claus and all that.
Lars: We had a whole Santa’s Village, yeah. We bought all these lights the year before after Christmas when you could go buy Christmas lights for 80%–90% off. We bought all this stuff and we get to this year, and Idaho doesn’t have quite the restrictions as other states do. We thought, we have to use all these lights.
We put a special event together, called it Santa’s Village for two weekends before Christmas, and had people come up. We had people coming from an hour-and-a-half away and said, thank you for doing this. I didn’t think my kids would be able to sit on Santa’s lap. I was Santa.
I can tell you that was one of the most joyous, wonderful experiences, to welcome those kids and get the restaurant going. The second weekend on the last day on that Saturday night, we ran out of our barbecue smoked ribs and stuff ahead of time. So many people—beyond our belief, what we expected—showed up from our community. Sadly, they can’t just make up for the thousands of people in Canada who come down.
Toby: But still, they’re there for you.
Lars: Like you said, […] you see, which was cool.
Toby: You had the little jerks in the water stuff—that’s a topic for another day—but at the end of the day even that stuff, you had a whole bunch of people showing who they were and coming together. That’s when you figure out who your friends are. Have a look at your friends when you’re on your way up. You get in a pickle a little bit, that’s when you figure out who your true friends are.
Lars: Well, that’s life. There’s nothing special about us, we’re going through life like everybody else. You have your ups, you have your downs. You mentioned the stock market. A couple of years back in 2018 God said, you’ve had your time there, I want you to switch gears, and I didn’t know, we hadn’t bought Jake’s Landing yet. We changed it to Jake’s Landing—Jacobson—and named it after my father who passed away recently, […]. And God said, that part of your life is now in your past.
I have to tell you, that was hard for him to ask that of me, because I’ve spent so much time in the market. Learned it back in the 90s, taught it in the 90s, taught it in the 2000s, everything, but God said, go this way. And this is a challenge. All things are possible, so we’re going to do it. Whatever happens, we’re going to persevere.
Toby: You have to visualize Lars clean-shaven in a suit. Right now, there are people that have probably met you that are going like, who is this guy?
Lars: I had a longer beard, see. When that was shot, that was at the end of November, so another couple of weeks of growth for Santa’s Village, and then I trimmed it way, way back here. But I live in North Idaho, so come on.
Toby: If somebody ran across you that knew you 20 years ago they’d go, really?
Lars: You’ve got a little going on there too, I see.
Toby: I’m just trying to hide the second chin. All right, we’re going to make sure that we get this out to everybody. Lars, you know I’m in your corner, and I know you’re going to come out of this. I always look at it like life’s […]. Money’s not everything. These types of things are temporary. Pain is temporary. Quitting is forever.
Don’t quit, people will come and help. We’re there for you, and I just know that three years from now, we’re going to be looking back and laughing at this whole thing. Maybe not laughing, but having positive thoughts and saying, look what it created.
Lars: Smiling back on all the tough times is how we got through it. That’s it.
Toby: All right, say hey to Wendy and the kids and we’ll go from there.
Lars: Give Sandra our best always.
Toby: You got it.
Lars: Take care, my friend.
Troy: This is Lars. Lars and his wife have 10 kids. They bought a gas station, a restaurant, and a package depot right on the US border with Canada. Business was great. Then, the pandemic hit and the border closed.
This is Troy. Troy and Lars are friends. Troy donated some of his stimulus money to Lars because he needed it more.
This is you. You’re visiting jakeslandingusa.com and donating just a slice of your stimulus money, or learning of other ways to help Lars and his family get through until the border opens again.
You can help right now by liking and sharing this video. Thank you.