City of Toronto and Digital Main Street Launch Free Website Initiative for Small Businesses

The City of Toronto and Digital Main Street have launched the DMS ShopHERE initiative to build and optimize online stores for Toronto’s independent businesses and artists free of charge.

By leveraging Toronto’s technology community, the partnership is providing Toronto businesses with a quick and easy way to sell products online amid the pandemic shutdowns, and the goal is to build and launch 4,000 online stores over the next three months.

The COVID-19 shutdowns have highlighted the importance of having an online presence for brick and mortar stores. The City of Toronto and TABIA say that they are dedicated to ensuring that its main street retailers receive the help they need during these trying and uncertain times.

The project is made possible with efforts from volunteer developers, marketing and business students, and the support of a number of corporate partners. The program is being supported by Google, Shopify, Facebook, MasterCard, Ebay, eShipper, Ritual, Trufan, Snapchat, Magnet, and the Schulich School of Business at York University and provides businesses with more than 17 hours of hands-on support with professionals who know the process thoroughly.

Toronto’s independent retailers, restaurants and artists can access ShopHERE to get their online store built and launched within a matter of days.

Businesses have the option of choosing a customizable online store template that is in keeping with their individual branding, showcasing their logo and conveying relevant information. Each business will receive hands-on assistance with the set-up and initial launch of the online store, as well as assistance into the future. Training and support is also provided to cover digital marketing and shipping queries, and general operational questions.

ShopHERE is purposely focusing on small, independent businesses and artists across the city who do not currently have the resources to build an online store. Within the city of Toronto there are an estimated 49,501 businesses that fit this profile, with 7,371 of them being restaurants, bars, or cafes.

The criteria being used to qualify for the initiative is as follows:

  • The business must be paying commercial property taxes in the City of Toronto;
  • The business must have fewer than 10 employees or fewer than 25 if a cafe, restaurant, bar;
  • The business cannot be a corporate chain or franchise;
  • If an artist, you must be located within the City of Toronto.

“Main street businesses are facing unprecedented times due to COVID-19. They need to be able to sell online if they are going to survive and we are proud to help launch ShopHERE to help them achieve this. This program is critical in ensuring our main streets can adapt and evolve during this crucial time. Launching ShopHERE and providing Toronto’s small businesses and artists the chance to receive an online store at no cost is an incredible opportunity we are excited to provide,” said Digital Main Street Senior Manager, Darryl Julott.

ShopHere has been made possible because of a multitude of volunteer website developers who are committed to doing their part in supporting independent businesses and artists during this time. A number of companies have already agreed to participate, including Global Skills Hub, Scotiabank, General Assembly, Brain Station, Juno, FreshBooks, NEXT Canada, TechTO, and TribalScale. Volunteers can sign up individually or as part of a company, and so far 90 website developers have volunteered to build anywhere from one to 40 online stores each as part of the program. Volunteers have agreed to build over 750 online stores to date, and this number is growing. Toronto tech companies with an interest in supporting small independent businesses and artists are encouraged to assist if they can

The initiative is also heavily supported by Digital Main Street, with 10 Digital Service Squad members providing coordination between the participating businesses and the websites developers, as well as providing hands-on support and training to businesses who are in the operating stages of their online stores. Funding for this has been provided by the City of Toronto.

In participation, The Schulich School of Business at York University has leveraged 50 MBA students to provide hands-on support and training to businesses to set-up and operate their online stores. All funding has been provided by the City of Toronto and Magnet.

If you would like more information please visit digitalmainstreet.ca/shophere/ or if you have any questions contact Chris Rickett (Directory, COVID-19 Mitigation – Business City of Toronto) at chris.rickett3@toronto.ca or Darryl Julott (Senior Manager, Digital Main Street) at darryl.julott@digitalmainstreet.ca

Article Author

Jessica Finch
Jessica Finch
Jessica Finch is a writer and editor based in Toronto. She holds a BA in English and Psychology and is a graduate of Ryerson University’s Publishing program. She has extensive managerial experience in the food service industry, and is interested in exploring innovations within this sector and other retail environments.

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