How Orillia’s Pocket Skate & Vintage is building a more inclusive skateboarding community with help from My Main Street
From the outside, skate culture can feel untouchable; the effortless cool, the stylish blend of style and sport, the allure of the perpetual outsider. For beginners, it can be hard to find a way into the culture.
“I had a lot of girls coming into the shop and buying a board, and then I would go down to the park and I wouldn't see them,” says Grace Schofield, co-owner of Pocket Skate & Vintage, a board sports and vintage clothing shop in Orillia. A month later she’d see them in the shop and ask where they’d been, and they’d always say they were practicing at home or on their street.
Schofield could relate. It wasn’t so long ago that she found her way into the skate community. “There’s this initial feeling when you pull up to the park and there are 10 teenage boys … it can definitely be intimidating, no matter how old you are, whether you’re a woman in your twenties or a teenage girl.”
But once you get past that, she says everything changes. “Obviously I know now that they're all so friendly, they just want to see you succeed,” says Schofield, noting that at times it can be overzealous. “The entire park erupts when someone lands something that they've been trying for a long time. I was at volleyball last night and people are doing crazy stuff and no one's saying a peep.”
Pocket Skate & Vintage has tried to capture that sense of community since Schofield and co-owner/long-time skater Mark Watson opened the business’ doors in August 2020. The first summer of the pandemic proved challenging. Skate lessons were too hands-on and running events was a non-starter, so they opted to spend the time strategizing how to really build on that community when things opened back up.
Since that time, Pocket Skate & Vintage connected with Amber Elliott, Main Street Ambassador for Downtown Orillia’s My Main Street program, being facilitated by the City of Orillia. The My Main Street Local Business Accelerator program, funded with a $23.25-million Government of Canada investment, through the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario) and delivered by the Economic Developers Council of Ontario (EDCO), helps revitalize business communities through hands-on support and market research. “They were very eager to participate in the program and learn more about the market research,” says Elliott. “They have a ton of ideas.”
Through My Main Street, Pocket Skate & Vintage received a $10,000-non-repayable contribution and access to in-depth market research on the demographics, interests and social media trends in the downtown Orillia trade area. The company’s market research report highlighted that its target group of customers were looking forward to attending events and having a physical connection with friends and family as the COVID-19 public health restrictions lifted. In response, the co-owners felt re-energized to focus on beginner skate nights.
Schofield had already been planning a skate night for the 2SLGBTQ+ community and people who identify as women. “I wanted the community to come down and see the skate park is welcoming and there are other like-minded people.”
My Main Street resources and research helped make this event a reality. It has also helped shape how the co-owners market all their skate events. “We saw (in the market research) that there are a lot of people in the community who love being active outdoors,” says Schofield. “People don’t realize how much effort it takes and how much you can break a sweat doing it.”
Elliott says she also worked with the business owners around outreach. For Schofield, who’d initially built her own vintage and tie-dye business on Instagram before teaming up with Watson to launch Pocket Skate & Vintage, social media seemed the best place to connect with customers. But the market research pointed to a newsletter.
“When we looked at their market research report, we saw that over 80 percent of people from their target group open their email daily,” says Elliott. “I suggested they start up a newsletter. I’ve heard from other business owners downtown, who already had a newsletter, that it was something that did really well in the community.”
Schofield says she was “shocked” by that information. But she also loves writing, so she began working on a monthly newsletter with information and updates about sales, events and new products. She’s on her third issue, and it’s already had an impact. “You can put in all these plug-ins, which direct people to our website, and they can shop from there.”
The next big project to come out of their work with My Main Street is using a portion of their funding to invest in a screen-printing set-up for creating branded merchandise. “We’ve got some embroidered hats, but we really want to expand our lineup and do something collaborative,” Schofield says.
They’ve started working on a co-branded shirt with The Lone Wolf Cafe, a local coffee and cocktail shop. “We’re also hoping to collab with some local artists, too,” notes Schofield.
Elliott says it’s no surprise that Pocket Skate & Vintage is making collaboration a priority. It fits with the shop’s community-centric vibe, and it fits with the community’s overall sense of alliance. It just helps to have the right data to make the right decisions, adds Elliott. “Every single time I've met with any of the business owners (about the market research), it sparks multiple ideas in their head.”