Ottawa’s Trendy Glebe Neighbourhood Invests in Digital Future
Tucked in the elbow of the Rideau Canal, Ottawa’s the Glebe neighbourhood is a unique enclave. It boasts a historic butcher, baker and candlestick maker style main street alongside a world class entertainment complex and urban park. It’s that diversity that keeps the business community there tight, a neighbourhood set within Canada’s capital city.
“We have a really active and engaged membership,” says Dana Thibeault, programming and events manager at The Glebe Business Improvement Area. “We run a number of programs throughout the year and we have really good relationships.”
It’s that interconnectivity that has offered up a springboard for the BIA’s roll-out of its Digital Main Street Program this summer. The program, which leverages grants and support from the Province of Ontario and the Ontario BIA Association, helps small, main street businesses across Ontario strengthen their digital and online capabilities.
“It's definitely an area where whether they're doing it well right now they want to do it well tomorrow,” explains Matthew Reiter, the BIA’s digital outreach specialist. “There's definitely a desire to improve and get better.”
Since the start of July, Reiter has connected with about 70 of the 200 or so traditional main street-type businesses calling the area home. The first step is a 15-minute assessment which the BIA has paired with a 360-degree photo to add to the business’ Google page.
“The response has been overwhelmingly positive,” says Reiter. “The biggest challenge has been educating everyone about the program but it's definitely gotten easier as I've gone along.”
Through his outreach, he’s found digital literacy oscillates wildly between the different businesses in the neighbourhood.
“Some were having higher level conversations about search engine optimization (while others) it was literally just buying a domain and securing their .ca or .com – it's really all over the map,” says Reiter. It’s required a certain dexterity to cater to specific businesses’ needs, but Reiter says the assessment does a lot of the work for setting that baseline.
“(The assessment) is a very good diagnostic, it might trigger a few thoughts (about) the projects or things you haven't done that you want to do or different facets and elements of digital media and digital marketing that you don't know,” he says. “The biggest thing business owners want to see right now when they're investing the time into their digital portfolio and footprint (is) a return on their investment.”
Reiter’s made that his mission, to show that while increasing your digital presence is a slow build, there are a lot of different avenues that can boost engagement and help a main street business keep step with its better-resourced competitors.
“A lot of businesses don't have the ability, financial means or resources to hire a full-time graphic designer so we’re showing them graphic design tools,” he says. “From an e-commerce perspective, we’re showing them the different options they have and the difference between different platforms and costs… making them aware of all their choices.”
It’s about education, but more than that, Reiter says, it’s about confidence.
“We're not making the decision for the business,” he says. “We’re providing them with the information and knowledge so that they themselves can come to an ultimate conclusion.”
Thibeault says the approach has helped the program gain momentum in The Glebe.
“For some of them this has been in the back of their mind, they've been meaning to get to it,” she says. “Now they're being presented with an opportunity to get it done and the flexibility of the program – it’s not a one size fits all, it's really scalable depending on what their needs are – has been extremely helpful in getting more people on board.”
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, and Yellow Pages.
This case study was completed during a prior expansion of DMS in partnership with the Province of Ontario and Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.
In June 2020, a $42.5-million investment from FedDev Ontario and an additional $7.45 million from the Government of 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.