With Toronto’s shops and restaurants back under lockdown and only open for curbside pickup and delivery, foot traffic has all but ceased. That’s a big blow to local businesses that rely on people walking by and stopping in – especially people out doing their holiday shopping.
If you want to support a local business, there are a couple of things you can do. You can go out window shopping anyway, then head back home to buy their wares online.
Or you can head to myLOCAL, a new site that aims to digitize entire neighbourhoods.
The site started in Vancouver in March and already has outposts in Los Angeles, Boulder, Colorado and Richmond, Virginia. Now, it’s launched a pilot project in Toronto starting with two neighbourhoods: Queen West and Ossington.
There are already over 600 stores in the database with many more to come. (There are more than 10,000 in the whole multi-city database.)
The Danforth, Kensington Market, Yonge, The Beaches, Church and Liberty Village are next on the list.
With many sites launching recently to help make shopping local as convenient as shopping on Amazon, myLOCAL is the one that feels the most like walking around a neighbourhood. The design is very simple. It’s set up like a walk, a scroll through photos of storefronts from one end of the street to another. Click a shop and you can find their hours, their website, a link to their delivery apps if they’re a restaurant and any other info they’ve decided to share.
The project was created by Vancouver ad agency Dead Famous as a way to support local businesses. Co-owner Chris Kostyal says he was strolling Main Street in Vancouver during the initial COVID shutdown and wanted to know what all the closed-up shops would do, especially the mom and pop shops with little in the way of web presence.
So he started walking up and down the street taking photos. Now, they’ve called upon contacts in all the other cities to do the same.
“All these local businesses have had to set up shops online, but most of them didn’t have the infrastructure in place,” says his co-founder Mike Fiorentino. “They’re used to foot traffic, not web traffic. They’re forced to compete with these mega tech giants who are just eating their lunch. So we wanted to give local businesses a chance to even the playing field.”
MyLOCAL doesn’t charge local businesses to be listed, and the pair say they never plan to charge. Many proprietors likely don’t even know their business is on the site. Phase one was taking all the photos, putting them up online and scraping the web to add any web presence that’s already out there.
The next (somewhat arduous) step is contacting every business, giving them their login info and inviting them to add their inventory. If they already have a Shopify or other online store, Fiorentino and Kostyal say they can migrate it over in five minutes.
You can shop by category, by street, or pick a block. Queen West, for instance, goes all the way from University to Ossington. It’s very all-encompassing, including everything from the smallest convenience store to a CIBC or Starbucks. (It also looks like it already needs some updating, with a number of stores in the database already closed.)
The project started as a way to do something good for local businesses, the pair say, and it’s a labour of love. It’s being paid for by Dead Famous, without much of an expectation to make the money back. That said, they do have some big, ambitious visions for the future. Eventually they hope to centralize and build a myLOCAL app, then a gig economy around local delivery (they still promise no charge on businesses).
They’ve also created ShopYourNeighbourhood, a version of myLOCAL for cities in Ontario like Kitchener, Waterloo, Cambridge, Stratford and London. It’s made in partnership with the credit union YNCU and Community First, and that sponsorship model is how they hope to monetize in the near future. “
“Basically letting the haves sponsor the have-nots,” says Kostyal.
“The ultimate challenge for local businesses is to change people’s consumer behaviours,” says Fiorentino. “Most people, when they think about transacting online, they think about Amazon
“We would love to get to a place where someone on Amazon stops themselves, thinks for 10 seconds and says, wait, can I get this locally?”