Unique Town Boutique creates more opportunities for local makers with My Main Street funding
Whitby’s Mary Street was a hidden strip of Victorian houses with wraparound verandas when Antonella Noakes first looked into opening Unique Town Boutique there in 2019. “There was really only one retail location at the time, and it had been there for about ten years,” says Noakes. Historically, the area had been called Pearson Lanes, a vibrant strip of outdoor shopping seemingly at odds with the bedroom community nature Whitby can sometimes evoke.
Photo by: David Simon, Sandbox Photovideo (Antonella Noakes)
Since opening Unique Town Boutique in September 2020, the area has changed so much. “Now, there are over 10 businesses, each providing a unique shopping experience,” says Noakes. Her efforts have helped revitalize the area, with Unique Town Boutique hosting outdoor pop-ups for local makers and vendors to come and connect with the community. Noakes says once a month local vegan to-go restaurant Portobello Road sets up a tent and makes pizzas. “It’s become a hub for local makers and the community to come enjoy and have an outdoor shopping experience,” she says. All of this helped Unique Town Boutique win the 2022 New Business of the Year award at the Peter Perry & Business Achievement Awards hosted by the Whitby Chamber of Commerce.
Photo by: David Simon, Sandbox Photovideo
The evolution of the area connects with Noakes on a deeper level because it feeds directly into what she’s trying to accomplish with Unique Town Boutique: building a sense of community. The shop – a general store of sorts – sells handcrafted creations from over 70 local creative artisans. “People don’t expect when they come up the stairs for the first time, what they’re going to see,” says Noakes. But when they do, they’re often surprised by the sheer diversity of products. “That’s why we do it… we do it for that person and that feeling that you get when you're just like, oh my gosh, I did not expect this.”
However, Noakes wants to do it on a grander scale. She felt growth was stagnating until she met Joanne Ferns, a business advisor and the My Main Street Ambassador for the My Main Street Local Business Accelerator program in Whitby North. The My Main Street program aims to revitalize business communities through hands-on support and is 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).“When you meet someone like Joanne, you really look at what your opportunity is and what’s missing and really the gap for us was the growth,” says Noakes. She felt Unique Town Boutique could use a better set-up retail space – more shelving and a refreshed retail look.
Photo by: David Simon, Sandbox Photovideo (Antonella Noakes and Joanne Ferns)
My Main Street’s in-depth market research on the demographics, interests and social media use in her area showed her potential clients in walking distance had a higher disposable income and were eco-conscious and locally-minded, says Ferns. “That data supported the fact that yes, there is good potential for this business.”
Ferns saw Unique Town Boutique as a great candidate for the $10,000 non-repayable contribution from My Main Street. Noakes applied for the funding and received it. The data helped Noakes identify where to devote those resources. The funding allowed her to invest in a freezer to stock more locally prepared foods, something in line with community needs identified in the market research. “Another big one for us was visibility,” says Noakes. “Being on the second floor, we have to do a lot to try to get that walking traffic in the door and exposed to the maker community we’ve built.” They invested in better signage.
Photo by: David Simon, Sandbox Photovideo
The Market data also pointed out that nearly eight in ten people in the area use a loyalty program. “Our customers and people in the area want to be rewarded for the things they buy,” says Noakes. With that insight, Unique Town Boutique built a loyalty and referral rewards program to create a better experience for customers.
“A month in, we’re starting to see those rewards being taken advantage of with people messaging and saying, Oh, I can't wait to do my Christmas shopping with my reward money,” says Noakes.
Photo by: David Simon, Sandbox Photovideo (Antonella Noakes, Lisa Larmond & Lexi Larmond)
Ultimately, everything the My Main Street funding and support have helped Noakes do contributes to her wider goal of building out the community hub. “When the makers see that I'm working with someone like Joanne and I'm putting in the time and the investment to develop a better space or attract the right type of customer with increased signage, all of those things build that strong bond or stronger connection with those makers.”
About My Main Street
My Main Street is a $23.25-million Government of Canada investment through the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario) to support the recovery and revitalization of main streets and local businesses in southern Ontario. The Canadian Urban Institute and the Economic Developers Council of Ontario have partnered to deliver My Main Street through two program streams. Learn more at www.mymainstreet.ca.
About FedDev Ontario
For 13 years, the Government of Canada, through FedDev Ontario, has worked to advance and diversify the southern Ontario economy through funding opportunities and business services that support innovation, growth and job creation in Canada’s most populous region. The Agency has delivered impressive results, which can be seen in southern Ontario businesses that are creating innovative technologies, improving productivity, growing revenues, creating jobs, and in the economic advancement of communities across the region. Learn more about the impacts the Agency is having in southern Ontario by exploring our pivotal projects, our Southern Ontario Spotlight, and FedDev Ontario’s Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn.