In response to the challenges small businesses are and will continue facing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the City of Toronto has developed a Toronto Main Street Recovery and Rebuild program composed of six projects.
Retail Accelerator Program
The Retail Accelerator Program was launched as a pilot in the fall of 2019. Growing out of the Starter Company Program, the Retail Accelerator Program provides retail businesses with training and micro-contributions to assist them to build and grow their businesses. Since October 2019, the program has been delivered in seven Business Improvement Areas (BIAs) in Toronto, with a focus on hard-hit retail areas outside the downtown core with a high percentage of diverse business owners. Participating BIAs to date have included Lakeshore Village, Wexford Heights, Duke Heights, Parkdale Village, Oakwood Village, Fairbank Village and York-Eglinton. Funding from FedDev Ontario will help to extend this program to more than 250 businesses over the next 2.5 years in both the downtown core and inner suburbs, making a direct and significant contribution to the viability and vitality of diverse-owned small business in communities across Toronto.
Vacant Commercial Space Rehabilitation Grant Program
Similar to the City of Toronto’s Commercial Façade Improvement Program, which provides small businesses with funding to cover 50 percent of the cost (to a maximum of $12,500) for improvements to building exteriors, the proposed Vacant Commercial Space Rehabilitation Grant program (to be recommended to City Council in September 2021) will offer direct funding to businesses to undertake interior leasehold improvements. The grant program will help commercial property owners or new commercial tenants re-lease space left vacant due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Improvements to meet health regulations and Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) compliance will also be eligible.
Funding from FedDev Ontario for this program could enable more than 300 retail locations to make needed leasehold improvements, and leverage – through a 50 per cent matching requirement – a similar degree of investment from recipients, doubling the impact on Toronto’s commercial business areas.
This initiative will help protect Toronto from neighbourhood retail and streetscape blight that can stall economic recovery, undermine consumer and business confidence, and negatively impact adjacent and nearby businesses, both downtown and in inner suburban neighbourhoods.
This new program could be launched in fall 2021, pending City Council consideration and approval.
Main Street Innovation Fund
As businesses continue to cope with the pandemic and begin to focus on longer-term recovery, they must rethink how they serve customers, engage with their communities, and market themselves.
Toronto’s 85 BIAs − representing 73,000 small businesses − play a critical role in enabling successful small business adaptation, growth and promotion. Building on the success of Toronto’s existing BIA Innovation Fund program, investment by FedDev Ontario in a new Main Street Innovation Fund will support new and previously untested projects, especially in Toronto’s hardest-hit central business district, mid-town neighbourhoods and inner suburban communities, and expand innovation funding support to eligible organizations beyond BIAs.
The Main Street Innovation Fund will help organizations engage in creative place-making activities, introduce innovative solutions to retail challenges, and re-animate main streets, among other initiatives to support small business and main street recovery.
plazaPOPS (Privately-Owned Public Spaces)
plazaPOPS is a community-led approach to transforming strip mall parking lots into free, safe, and green community spaces, while directly supporting small businesses in the process. It is an innovative and demonstrated economic and community development strategy tailored to the urban form of Toronto’s inner suburbs, a setting which is common to many other (inner) suburban areas in Canada.
FedDev Ontario funding will support the implementation of up to 15 plazaPOPS locations in North Etobicoke, Scarborough and other inner suburban areas of Toronto. In addition to directly benefitting hundreds of small businesses, this investment will enable further demonstration and refinement of a promising local economic development model that could have broad application in similar communities in Ontario and across the country.
plazaPOPS is a registered not-for-profit with a diverse board that is guiding the organization through a period of growth, while ensuring that future projects remain anchored in equity, inclusion, meaningful community engagement and effective economic development.
CaféTO is a City of Toronto COVID-19 response program launched in the summer of 2020 to provide urgent help to local restaurants and bars. When outdoor dining was permitted, CaféTO helped hundreds of restaurant and bar operators by making it easier to open patios in curb lanes and along sidewalks by providing additional space for physical distancing. CafeTO helped operators generate revenue and enliven nearby public spaces.
City Council will have an opportunity in the fall of 2021 to approve the continuation of CaféTO for 2022 and beyond.
Funding support from FedDev Ontario for CaféTO can be used to cost-share improvements to patio space to meet accessibility and public safety requirements while restaurants and bars are still recovering from the impacts of the pandemic.
Support for Businesses in Little Jamaica/Eglinton Avenue West (in partnership with the Black Business and Professional Association – BBPA)
The Eglinton West corridor, known as Little Jamaica, is a commercial main street of great cultural significance to Toronto as a distinct ethnic and cultural hub for Caribbean and African immigrants. The area is known for a cluster of 85 Black-owned businesses of cultural relevance including barber shops, restaurants specializing in Caribbean cuisine, Black aesthetics and hair shops, recording studios and music stores. Little Jamaica plays an important role as a commercial and cultural destination for both residents and visitors from other parts of the city and the surrounding Greater Toronto Area.
In addition to the negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic within the Little Jamaica community, ongoing LRT construction in recent years has had a devastating impact on area businesses. Toronto City Council has identified the neighbourhood as a priority area for support. While many of the proposed measures endorsed by Council to support the community address medium to long-term structural issues, immediate assistance is also required to sustain businesses in the community.
Immediate needs include area branding and marketing, bringing businesses online to benefit from e-commerce solutions, support for re-opening, offering one-on-one business development assistance with financial literacy, tax filing, business plan writing, borrowing, property purchase and social media presence, and building connections with professional services such as accountants and legal support.
The City will partner with the Black Business and Professional Association (BBPA) to deliver supports to businesses in Little Jamaica. The BBPA has also established relationships with the three Little Jamaica Business Improvement Areas BIAs (Eglinton Hill, Fairbank Village and York-Eglinton) as well as other local organizations.
Additional Information about the City’s Recovery and Rebuild Efforts