Pair of programs to help small Calgary businesses open online, physical stores

Click to play video: 'City of Calgary to offer more e-commerce support to small businesses'
City of Calgary to offer more e-commerce support to small businesses
WATCH: Calgary small businesses will soon have access to a new tool. As Jackie Wilson reports, the city is offering up e-commerce support for those struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic. – Jan 19, 2021

The City of Calgary has a couple of new initiatives to help small businesses following the coronavirus pandemic.

“That really is the plan — to figure out ways to make it easier for new businesses to start and existing businesses to grow in the post-pandemic world,” Mayor Naheed Nenshi said.

Read more: On a roll: E-scooters to return to Calgary in 2021

On Monday, city council voted in favour of a pilot program that would streamline the approval process for things like permits for small businesses looking to open brick-and-mortar locations in three city neighbourhoods.

And Tuesday morning, the city announced grants to help 400 small businesses and artists establish online stores via ShopHere, a Digital Main Street program involving Google.

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International Avenue, Montgomery and a part of Sunalta will be part of the one-year streamlining pilot. A similar pilot launched in July 2017 in the Centre City Enterprise Area, that allowed for change of use applications, exterior work and additions of less than 1,000 square metres to have some exemptions from regular processes.

That pilot lasted two years and saved an average of 15 days per application, and $104,868 on development permit fees.

“That has been tremendously successful in the downtown core,” Nenshi said. “And so we thought, ‘Well, why not expand that to other parts of the city?”

The new pilot would only apply to change of use and exterior alteration development permits.

Some business types will not be allowed to be a part of the pilot, including liquor stores and payday loans.

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The mayor said businesses have been able to open in the International Avenue BRZ during the pandemic, saying some are “doing really well.”

“But at the same time, these are small businesses often owned by new Canadians. And why not save them some money and save them some hassle in moving forward?”

Brick and mortar to online

The City of Calgary joins Toronto in helping existing small businesses and artists offer their wares online through the ShopHere program.

Calgary is offering grants for 400 businesses to sign up between Feb. 1 and March 31. Approved businesses would get help registering a domain, setting up an online store and online marketing using existing online platforms like Shopify, Ebay, the Canadian Internet Registration Authority, Facebook, Google and Mastercard.

Read more: Shoppers urged to buy local to help Alberta small businesses during COVID-19 holiday season

“Being digital can increase a business’s resilience during a crisis that requires them to close their doors,” Sonya Sharp, leader of business and local economy, said in a statement.

“In order to be competitive, they’ve had to venture into online and E-commerce — it’s essential for businesses to have that option to stay in business and stay competitive.”

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This marks the second phase of ShopHere in Calgary, with the first phase seeing 45 companies opening websites with more in the works.

Andy Fennell, owner of Gravity Espresso and Wine Bar, took part in the first phase.

“It’s been very helpful through the pandemic with some extra revenue leading up to Christmas. I’m very grateful we’ve got it in place,” Fennell said in a statement.

In an interview with Global News, Fennell said the program helped him do something he wasn’t previously able to — establish a virtual storefront.

“Although I’ve thought about it in the past, I never really had the money to put toward something like that,” Fennell told Global News.

“It sets us up well for when we come out of the pandemic. Plus, right now it’s a substantial part of the revenue that we’re bringing in.

“We’re down to about 20 per cent of our pre-COVID levels right now with the lockdown.”

Fennell said about 30 per cent of sales are from the restaurant’s website.

According to the ShopHere website, the process takes between two to six weeks.

Grants are given on a first-come, first-served basis by signing up on their website.

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–with files from Jaqueline Wilson, Global News

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