Though it’s been a most challenging two years, small businesses in Hamilton have been able to access a variety of programs and supports designed to ease the hardship.
“We put a priority on doing all we could to help businesses weather the storm to keep our business corridors vibrant,” said Judy Lam, manager, commercial districts and small business.
Digital Main Street, offered through the Hamilton Business Centre, the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce, and the Ontario Business Improvement Association, offers grants, training resources and specialized supports to businesses undertaking a digital transformation.
$1Million has been paid out to Hamilton companies under the Digital Main Street program in just the last 2.5 years alone.
“Every business today is a media company of sorts, whether through websites, digital marketing, or social media posts,” said Keith Russell, Digital Main Street program coordinator. “But that takes technical knowledge, time and effort.”
Russell says there have been remarkable success stories, including businesses shifting from pen and paper inventory to digital platforms and incorporating e-commerce sales for the first time.
“For some people, there has been a total revolution of their business.”
When the pandemic began, the City partnered with digital media company Hamilton Rising to develop Hometown Hub. It is a one-stop-shop directory platform that provides local businesses with free digital listings and profile pages. It recently won gold in the 2021 International Economic Development Council’s Excellence in Economic Development Awards.
“We wanted it to connect businesses to potential customers, whether they wanted to order a cheeseburger or do their Christmas shopping,” said Sam Holdridge, founder of Hometown Hub.
“There are so many amazing businesses in Hamilton and great things are happening. As we emerge from the pandemic, there has been a paradigm shift and digital is even more important than it was before.”
The City of Hamilton is also introducing a two-year Commercial Vacancy Assistance Program matching grant program within BIAs and designated commercial corridors for tenants launching businesses in ground floor or basement commercial units.
Kerry Jarvi, executive director of the Downtown Hamilton BIA, says the hard work of local businesses was supported by efforts by City staff to quickly approve outdoor dining areas and other applications.
“We’ve actually seen quite a number of businesses open during COVID, including Jamaican, Nigerian and African restaurants on one stretch. There is an appetite and expectation for getting back to normal.”