After several months of discussions and planning and waiting, I'm happy to announce that Tooq Inc is now a partner with the City of Edmonton on the Corner Store Pilot Program that will see development efforts in three city neighborhoods, focused on local strip malls. In each case, the malls are centrally located in their neighborhood and are the home of a wide variety of small businesses. At one time the malls were the central hub of each of their communities, at a time before big box stores and Amazon one-day shipping were prevalent. An era when we lived locally because it was the only practical option and the other options were expensive or inconvenient. And while the shine has long-faded from many of Edmonton's local hubs, there are hundreds of small businesses across this city that continue to provide goods and services to their customers with little fanfare.
From the City of Edmonton's website, the project's aim is to:
Help businesses and property owners to make physical improvements, develop marketing and business attraction strategies, and operate more successfully.
Provide better opportunity for residents to get goods and services at attractive locations within the neighbourhood.
Improve the opportunity for small neighbourhood shopping centres to be a valued community landmark, a hub of activity, and a walkable destination that contributes to the overall desirability of the neighbourhood.
The City has selected three neighbourhoods for the pilot, these being Newton, on 54 street and 122 Avenue, Elmwood on 83rd Ave and 166 Street, and my home neighbourhood of Ritchie on 96th Street and 76th Ave. While Newton and Elmwood both are constrained to a single structure, Ritchie has two properties under the pilot and will work closely with Greg Zeschuk's Ritchie Market development opening in 2016.
Tooq has been hired to help 29 business owners with their online marketing and to create three new websites, one for each pilot location. While still at the very early stages, the sites will generally aim to be a directory style site with information on each business, including contact information, operating hours, and content that explains the products and services they offer. The site will also aim to provide information on accessing the site with transit information, maps, neighbourhood information, and leasing information for each of the malls. Businesses that already operate their own websites will still have a page on the directory site and that page will link out to their website. For many of the businesses, the directory will act as their first foray into the online world and so Tooq will also be providing one or more content strategy sessions.
The Content Strategy sessions focus on helping the small business owners develop a plan for interacting on the web and growing their business by extending their business relationships to include online interactions. The goal is to help the business owners translate these interactions into brick and mortar customers and increase their overall contribution to the communities they operate in.
I met the first seven business owners on Thursday at the Newton site and had a series of meetings to learn about each of these businesses and what makes them special. From a convenience store owner that has been there for 27 years, to a second generation denturist, to two young first-time business owners just launching a fitness franchise, it's a diverse and passionate group with plenty to offer. I love talking with small business owners and hearing about what they do, what they struggle with, and what they have planned. I'm very excited about this project and looking forward to having Tooq doing our part in helping make three of Edmonton's neighbourhoods that much better. Many thanks to the dedicated folks at Community Economic Development for the hours and hours of legwork to get things this far. They will impact thousands of lives in our city with this program. I'm proud that my company has a supporting role in their tremendous efforts.