Mayor, City of Markham
Owner, Pineapple Design
Provost & Vice President Academic, York University
The City of Markham’s first-in-Canada initiatives are helping business owners access resources, learn new skills, and create an online presence.
Shortly after he had to temporarily close his storefront due to COVID-19 restrictions, Garry Thorpe was able to open a new door to his business.
Thorpe and his wife, Vanda, own Pineapple Design in the City of Markham, which provides interior design and space planning and sells custom furniture. When Markham became the first municipality in the country to join the Canada-wide expansion of the Digital Main Street ShopHERE powered by Google program, Thorpe signed up.
ShopHERE provides independent small businesses and artists with a quick, easy, and no-cost way to get selling online. Participants get free access to one-to-one support from e-commerce experts to help sell their work or services online. ShopHERE is funded by the federal government of Canada through the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario, the Province of Ontario, and key corporate partners. Students provide training in setting up and operating the online stores.
While most of Pineapple Design’s business is in-person design planning, Thorpe sells home décor items on his site and showcases custom furniture. Many people discover Pineapple Design through the site, purchase small items, and then hire the company to do in-home design. “It has been excellent. We’re more visible to a much larger audience,” says Thorpe. “It’s truly a path to the future.”
Small businesses are integral to community success
ShopHERE is just one example of how Markham has been a leader in supporting its small businesses through the COVID-19 pandemic. “Small businesses support the bulk of employment in our community and are an integral part of our success,” says Mayor Frank Scarpitti. “An online presence allows them to be competitive, now and in the long term.”
The city created the Markham Small Business Recovery and Digital Resilience Program, which provides training and advice on how business owners can establish their online presence. The program also awarded grants of up to $5,000 to more than 25 businesses to help with implementation. The city’s tourism board, Destination Markham, quickly pivoted to help with economic recovery, running publicity campaigns showcasing local businesses and visiting businesses to make sure owners knew about support programs from all levels of government.
In December, Markham established a first- in-Canada partnership with SkipTheDishes to offer zero commission fees to restaurants for their first 30 days and to provide residents with free delivery throughout the holidays to help restaurants gain back some of their lost seasonal business.
Partnerships are key to success
In partnership with York University’s YSpace, the city delivered the Founder Fundamentals series to teach community members the core skills needed to start a business. The programming is part of YSpace Markham, which is an incubator that provides collaboration space, mentoring, and workshops, bringing potential startups together with experienced entrepreneurs and investors.
“YSpace is a great success story and an example of how a university can partner with the community and create an ecosystem where you’ve got established businesses supporting new ideas from entrepreneurs and providing students with experiential learning to develop that talent pipeline,” says Lisa Philipps, Provost and Vice President Academic at York University.
With all of these initiatives in place, Mayor Scarpitti is optimistic. “There’s a burning desire from the public to get back into restaurants, celebrate milestones, and enjoy our Main Street,” he says. “When things re-open, I think there will be a significant bounce back in terms of economic activity. But, it will take time before businesses heal from the economic pain. We’ll do everything we can to support small businesses and to keep some of these initiatives going.”