Right Up to the Line (again)

On December 20, 2010 · 11 Comments

This is my second attempt to present this article, following the debacle yesterday evening when I posted a rough outline. That was the first time I’d hit the publish button prematurely in nearly 500 articles. I suppose it was bound to happen eventually. Hopefully it didn’t cause too much confusion.

The whole point of this article, which may or may not have been apparent from the inadvertent draft, is to feature businesses that go directly up to a border without actually crossing it for economic reasons. This is the flip-side to an earlier article I provided about buildings that straddle a border, or something I called Bordersplit.

Jurisdictions may have different taxes or cultural norms. A product on one side might have a higher price or it might even be illegal on the other. These disparities create powerful business opportunities. Someone can set up shop on the more permissive side and entice customers across.

Sales Tax

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New Hampshire doesn’t have a sales tax. Its neighbor, Massachusetts has one of the higher sales taxes, at 6.25%. Many Massachusetts residents are a short drive away from instant savings, with plenty of New Hampshire businesses located at the first exit for their convenience.

Pheasant Lane Mall focuses a business model centered around this precept, attracting more Massachusetts customers than natives. The buildings are so close to the border than much of the parking lot extends into the neighboring state. Google Maps includes an error here by the way, placing the border about 40-50 feet north of the actual location. The real border is marked on the pavement. One segment can be seen above the three cars in the parking lot. Follow that line across and notice that the edge of the building has an irregular side designed to hug the boundary, stopping within inches without crossing it.

There is a story, quite possibly apocryphal, that accounts for the strange shape of the JC Penny store. As legend goes, the corner of the department store once straddled the boundary ever-so-slightly. Massachusetts, sometimes derided as "Taxachusetts," responded by declaring that all purchases made within the mall would be subject to their sales tax. The mall owners replied by lopping-off a small corner of the building to keep it entirely within New Hampshire. I have some doubts about the story — I think it more likely that the architects simply worked within understood space limitations — but it’s still fun to consider. Take that tax man!


Grotere kaart weergeven

I have a good friend who lives in Belgium. He frequently recommended that I cross into Luxembourg whenever I wandered anywhere near the border. Petrol is considerably cheaper in Luxembourg than in surrounding countries due to tax differences.

Martelange-haut Luxembourg
SOURCE: Panoramio (user vnk08); under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License

I borrowed this image from Panoramio to demonstrate the situation more dramatically. There is a stretch of the N4 road, Route D’Arlong, running directly along the border. Luxembourg is on one side and Belgium is on the other. Notice the row of fuel stations starting just beyond the Maison Rouge Restaurant on the left side of the image. That’s on the Luxembourg side.


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Many parts of the United States limit fireworks severely or ban them entirely. South Carolina has a much more permissive attitude. Pretty much anything that the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives approves for sale to the public is available in South Carolina year-round. I have fond childhood memories of friends returning from trips down south with large bags of firecrackers, cherry bombs, bottle rockets, M-80’s, and a whole range of exploding shells and projectiles. Our neighborhood would resound with the concussions of smuggled goodies for several days.

Much of this stash seemed to come from South of the Border, as in south of the North Carolina border. It’s the first (or last) place where extreme fireworks could be purchased legally along busy Interstate 95. Even I’ve stopped at South of the Border. It’s hard to resist a hundred miles of relentless billboard advertising.


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Gambling is a huge example. I touched on this previously when I wrote about an esoteric time zone issue in the Wendover article. Wendover, Utah faces economic uncertainty while West Wendover, Nevada prospers. The primary difference is that West Wendover is the closest Nevada location to Salt Lake City, a two-hour shot due west on Interstate 80. Gamblers from a restrictive state flock to West Wendover for a quick gaming fix.

Other examples would include the proliferation of Native American gaming enterprises that have sprouted in areas where gambling hasn’t been allowed traditionally.

On December 20, 2010 · 11 Comments

11 Responses to “Right Up to the Line (again)”

  1. Rick Nordstrom says:

    Considering you mentioned Salt Lake City, I’m surprised you didn’t bring up Evanston, Wyoming. Evanston is the last exit on westbound I-80 before one crosses into Utah. As far as I can tell, its principle reason for existence is so people from Salt Lake City have someplace to go on a Saturday night in order to do all the things they either aren’t allowed to do or wouldn’t want to be seen doing in Utah.

    I have visited Salt Lake City twice in order to do genealogical research, and found it a very friendly, clean place. That being said, it does have a certain restrictive feel to it, which is best illustrated by the t-shirt I saw in Evanston: “Eat, drink, and be merry…for tomorrow you might be in Utah”.

  2. Peter says:

    When I lived in Connecticut it was not at all unusual for people to drive to New Hampshire to buy liquor and wine. Connecticut had a strange alcohol-control regulatory scheme that resulted in very high prices and a proliferation of tiny, poorly-stocked liquor stores. The state of New Hampshire built a big modern state liquor store in the town of Hinsdale in the Granite State’s southwestern corner, as close a drive to Connecticut as possible. The price differential was so significant that buying as few as five bottles would more than make up for the cost of gasoline, and even for the inconvenience of driving a couple hours each way.

    This practice began to decline in the 1980’s, when regulatory changes led to reduced prices in Connecticut and the opening of some decently stocked liquor stores. Even so, the New Hampshire trips still were taking places when I moved out of Connecticut in 1997, I don’t know if they still happen today.

  3. Henry says:

    Oh yes, NH is still the destination for liquor in New England. From RI, I don’t make trips for that express purpose, but whenever I’m anywhere near the NH border I always stop to stock up. Top-shelf liquor at bottom-shelf prices.

  4. Matt says:

    There is a convenience store on the Ohio-Pennsylvania line near Sharon, Pa., where you can by Ohio Lottery tickets on one side of the store and Pennsylvania Lottery tickets on the other.

    • Outstanding, Matt. I think I found it — the sign outside clearly advertises lotteries from both states!

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    • Rhodent says:

      There’s a similar situation in a town called Moyock on the NC/VA border, not far from the Atlantic Ocean. For many years NC had no lottery so the “Border Station”‘s claim to fame was that you could walk into a store in NC, cross the line in the store to VA, and buy Virginia lottery tickets (the cash register was specifically placed in Virginia so this would be legal). Now that NC has a lottery as well, there is a second cash register in NC which sells NC lottery tickets.

      • E.C. says:

        At Colonial Beach, Virginia, there’s an off-track betting parlor located on the high-tide line (and thus, the border w/Maryland). There are instant lottery vending machines located very precisely on either side of the border (near the entrance), and a cool sign with “Welcome to Maryland/Virginia” on the appropriate side…

  5. Jbapo says:

    At least two points on the California/Nevada border have a complex of casinos located just on the Nevada side of the line. Stateline, NV borders South Lake Tahoe, CA and is a small town, except for a few large casinos built right up to the border, all within a loop road called Lake Parkway.

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    I know the Stateline example personally, but the second is far more interesting. Primm, NV is located on I-15 right at the border. It used to be called, coincidentally (or not) State Line, but the name was changed so to prevent confusion with Stateline. I-15 is the major interstate between LA and Las Vegas, but Primm’s three casinos offers a first, or last, chance to gamble for travelers from Southern California. What’s really interesting though, is the Lotto Store, located in California, but only accessible from Primm’s Lotto Store Road.

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  6. Cape May says:

    This deals with county, and not state, borders: the Ford Motor Company’s B-24 bomber plant at the Willow Run Airport in Ypsilanti, Michigan sat right on the border between Wayne and Washtenaw Counties. The plant supposedly had a turntable which would turn airplanes-in-progress 90 degrees so there would be no operations taking place in Wayne County, which had higher taxes than Washtenaw County.

  7. Rhodent says:

    South of the Border, incidentally, started out as a place to get booze at a time when county just across the state line in NC was dry. Although Interstate 95 passes right by SOTB, SOTB actually predates 95. My understanding is that the owner used his connections to get the interstate to come by SOTB so that it wouldn’t become just another business on a U.S. Highway that went into decline when the interstates became the main carriers of traffic.

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