The Danforth Mosaic and the Beach Village collaborate to design a business recruitment strategy

“We're trying to better understand why those vacancies exist because there are so many different reasons – maybe a landlord is asking too much or maybe (they’re) not even around, maybe the space needs an upgrade and renovations are too costly,” says Sebert.


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Post by Andrew Seale  Photo above by Cameron Bartlett; photos below c/o The Beach and The Danny BIAs, respectively

Post by Andrew Seale

Photo above by Cameron Bartlett; photos below c/o The Beach and The Danny BIAs, respectively

You’d be hard-pressed to find a Toronto neighbourhood without some vacant shopfront, pane glass collecting dust under hand-drawn signs promising space for rent.

 “Especially when you're dealing with a sign on the wall that says ‘Call Curtis’ and has a phone number written in sharpie,” says Oliver Hierlihy, former manager of the Danforth Mosaic Business Improvement Area (he's since moved over to the Waterfront BIA). “It’s not exactly a fulsome process for recruiting businesses.”

 The Danny – as it’s affectionately called – has teamed up with fellow Eastenders The Beach Village BIA to modernize business recruitment and retention, tapping into the Toronto BIA Office Innovation Fund to do so.

 “Even though our areas are very different, we’re similar in terms of 8-to-10-foot business frontage and just one street of that for three kilometres or so,” says Hierlihy. And it was those similarities that drew the Danny BIA head and Anna Sebert, executive director of the Beach Village to collaborate.

 “(We suspect) small businesses see a store window and a ‘for rent’ sign and call it and that's how their business starts,” he says. “They're probably a local, they probably have a crazy idea and they want to try it out which is very different than the Eaton Centre where you have an established business with 100 other locations.”

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Both neighbourhoods have been struggling in their own ways, admits Hierlihy, pointing out that the Danny is “off to the side” and the Beach Village is predominantly “seasonal.”

But Hierlihy is quick to note that their initiative isn't “a cry for help that main street is dead.”  Both areas are under the 17 per cent vacancy The Danforth Mosaic sat at four years ago.

“We're trying to better understand why those vacancies exist because there are so many different reasons – maybe a landlord is asking too much or maybe (they’re) not even around, maybe the space needs an upgrade and renovations are too costly,” says Sebert.

Currently, the BIAs are gathering both observational data and surveying business owners, community members and stakeholders to better understand what’s missing. They also plan to compile a database of the businesses in the neighbourhood.

They’re hoping to use the data and the methodology to develop a template for other BIAs to use to better understand their business mix and where the gaps may be.

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“There might be a really great business in the west end that somebody in the east end wants to go here,” says Sebert. “Or maybe we say ‘what kind of businesses do you want to see in The Beach?’ – people let us know and we can reach out to those businesses with this marketing package and all the survey data.”

 The initiative is still in its infancy but both BIAs hope to walk away with a better understanding of what the neighbourhood needs and how to recruit and retain businesses.

 “We're working on this on Sundays, this is above the scope of our jobs in many ways,” says Hierlihy. “(The BIA Innovation Fund) has allowed us to do that and take leadership within BIAs to say, this is the direction forward, we need to do more and actually have an impact on what businesses come to our areas.”

David Hessels