Beamsville and Lincoln main street businesses adapt to the pandemic with digital
Beamsville and Lincoln sit in the heart of the Niagara wine region, an area that benefits heavily from a steady flow of daytrippers and getaway seekers. But this year was decidedly different, shaped by the pandemic’s swings and the slow-rolling regulations put in place to stop the spread of COVID-19.
On one hand, says Hicks, of all the years to run Digital Main Street, 2020 felt critical, if not urgent. The program combines grants and one-to-one support from Fed Dev Ontario alongside partners like Google to help main street businesses strengthen their online capabilities and plan for the digital future. But at the same time, constantly changing restrictions and regulations made it hard for businesses to know what they should be doing. “They’re already multi-tasking times a million,” says Hicks.
With this in mind, the Beamsville BIA teamed up with the Town of Lincoln to jointly apply for a $26,000 Digital Service Squad grant to pool resources and take a focused approach to providing digital support. The aim, says Hicks, was to make the transition from “brick-and-mortar to bricks-and-clicks” easier.
“We definitely had businesses the second year that were very grateful that it opened up again because they missed the opportunity the first year and recognized that after the fact,” says Hicks. “When we launched our squad members, right away we had a few businesses jump on board.”
Beamsville BIA had 14 businesses register for the program, many of which applied for the $2,500 Digital Transformation Grant. Hicks says of the 18 that participated last year, some returned this year as well to leverage the support from the Digital Service Squad. She says a lot of businesses wanted new 360-degree photos for the Google My Business account so they could show they had proper COVID-19 protocols in place and people would “feel comfortable walking into that business.”
Cameron Rotz, economic development intern for Lincoln, says the town saw interest from 40 different businesses. The ShopHERE program powered by Google was the biggest driver of interest, he says. “(Just) being able to sell their services online, especially because this is eligible for home-based businesses which there are a lot of within the town of Lincoln.”
Rotz says the destination village of Jordan at the town of Lincoln’s most eastern edge was particularly keen on the program. It’s a tourism-focused area made up of small boutiques and family businesses. “They don’t really have much of background in technology and they rely strictly on people coming into their store and seeing what they have as their inventory changes very frequently,” says Rotz. So being able to adopt new technology – Rotz points to one local business that used the Digital Transformation Grant to invest in its first computer – would “go a long way.”
Across the region are similar stories of businesses that shied away from technology prior to the pandemic but quickly adapted by stepping out of their comfort zone. It’s these stories that both Rotz and Hicks agree highlight the importance of the Digital Main Street program.
“They’ve never relied on technology before to operate and run their business,” says Rotz. “But obviously with COVID-19’s impact on the business environment, even in towns like Lincoln, all the small rural communities, it’s going to change and they’e going to have to be able to adapt to this as best as they can.”
Written by Andrew Seale
Digital Main Street was created by the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas (TABIA) with direct support from the City of Toronto. DMS is also supported by a group of strategic business partners, including Google, Mastercard, Shopify, Microsoft, Facebook, Intuit QuickBooks, Square, Yellow Pages and Lightspeed.
A $42.5-million investment from FedDev Ontario brought together the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas, Communitech, Invest Ottawa and the Ontario Business Improvement Area Association to expand the Digital Main Street Platform in order to support more businesses going digital as a response to the impacts of COVID-19 in Southern Ontario.