How My Main Street is helping Kingston’s Williamsville find itself
As Kingston’s sprawl pushed the auto dealers and motels synonymous with its historic Williamsville neighbourhood further out, it became unrecognizable from its role in the city’s genesis.
“Intermittently there were coffee shops and restaurants but there were not a lot of businesses there,” explains Rob Tamblyn, Business Development Manager of Small and Medium Enterprises at the Kingston Economic Development Corporation. That’s changing for the better.
A decade-long project to revitalize the area and inject new life into main street Williamsville has spawned rapid development in the area, something the community hopes will blend new and old to reflect the historic city’s here and now.
Recently, the Downtown Kingston Business Improvement Association (BIA), Inner Harbour and Williamsville communities were selected to participate in the My Main Street Local Business Accelerator program and Tamblyn is excited. It’s part of the two-year My Main Street initiative that was established in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The $23.25-million Government of Canada investment, through the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario), brought together the Canadian Urban Institute (CUI) and Economic Developers Council of Ontario (EDCO) as project leads. Among other things, the program offers customized market research to capture primary and secondary data that will be used to guide investments in and by main street businesses.
Williamsville is one of 65 southern Ontario main street communities that will receive a non-repayable contribution of $50,000 toward the 12-month salary of a Main Street Ambassador who will provide hands-on support and advice to help local entrepreneurs. In addition to getting funding for an ambassador, these communities will also receive up to ten $10,000 grants to support new and existing businesses.
For Tamblyn, one of the most exciting parts of the program is the in-depth market research and analysis that can help guide their work in their communities. The community profile pulls together thousands of data points from trade area demographics and mobility to consumer preferences and the types of social media they’re active on. It also includes a detailed survey of local residents to focus on local sentiment.
The sophisticated picture of the trade area will inform existing business owners and identify new retail and service opportunities. This data analysis is critical for Williamsville as it can reveal new business opportunities that are essential to creating a healthy mix of retail along their main streets, which they need to attract local shoppers.
“Right now, what we’re trying to do is to really identify who’s living there, their likes and dislikes and some of the things that they might be interested in,” says Tamblyn. “Having this data from My Main Street is going to really be beneficial with plotting a course for the future of this neighbourhood—to go out and start attracting different businesses that will fill some of those gaps and work with the ones that are already there.”
Tamblyn says he suspects the work being done in Williamsville with the My Main Street program will help the area’s business community develop a stronger foundation, something he says will hopefully lead to the establishment of a BIA to bring everyone together and move forward with one voice. “I think the sky’s the limit for an area like that.”