By Matt Horwood
The Wellington West Business Improvement Area (BIA) and Crowdfund Canada have launched ‘LOVE.WellingtonWest.ca,’ a joint crowdfunding program to support more than 550 businesses in Hintonburg and Wellington Village financially impacted by the pandemic.
Dennis Van Staalduinen, executive director of the Wellington West BIA, said when businesses in Ottawa were forced to close down in mid-March due to COVID-19, and store owners had to continue paying fees associated with rent and employee salaries, the BIA knew it would have to assist in a more direct way.
“It was pretty clear the pain was going to be high and the government support was going to be slow or inadequate to help with the challenges,” he said.
Van Staalduinen said other Ottawa BIAs have implemented virtual gift-certificate programs, allowing customers to give donations towards in-store credits to be fulfilled at a later date. But having the BIAs take donations directly and pass them on to businesses “involves taking a lot of risks” and is a slow way of getting money to businesses. It also isn’t scalable.
“They only have a few businesses, whereas we have 550 — more than any other BIA in Ottawa. We don’t have the staff to handle it,” Van Staalduinen said.
The BIA needed a flexible way for the community to invest in local businesses in exchange for rewards and incentives, while allowing businesses to “reinvent and adapt.”
“We wanted to focus on [the] bigger picture, so that it wasn’t just about the emergency COVID problem, but what we could do to make sure these businesses are using this opportunity to help themselves in the long-term,” Van Staalduinen added.
Shortly after the business closures occurred, the BIA was contacted by the McConnell Foundation about becoming the first pilot for their Community Wealth Sharing Initiative. The venture aims to “empower collective action by merchant groups and their communities to help small businesses survive the COVID-19 lockdown.”
The McConnell Foundation put the BIA in touch with Crowdfunder UK, which helped to build a custom site for the campaigns and waived all platform fees for any participating businesses. Van Staalduinen said the McConnell Foundation also provided funding to cover all third-party transactions and to ensure every dollar donated went directly to the businesses.
As of May 29, 228 supporters raised over $23,000 for nine Wellington West businesses, four of which have reached 100 per cent of their donation targets, Van Staalduinen confirmed.
Through the crowdfunding campaign, the businesses are able to choose the rewards they offer to donors, such as gift certificates, in-store credits and product give-aways. Some businesses have gotten creative with their rewards. Iron North Studio is offering a variety of virtual personal training sessions for donations of more than $20 and the Hintonburg Public House is selling paintings.
Several businesses have also chosen to raise money for the Parkdale Food Centre (PFC) with their campaigns. Flamingo Boutique, which has been closed since May 15, is giving 25 per cent of every donation to the PFC.
“This is a horrible situation for my business to be in, but my family is financially secure and we have food on our table, unlike the families that need the food bank,” Flamingo Boutique Owner Jo Arbuthnot said.
Kari Whitehorne, co-owner of Wellington Vision Care, said her business is giving $5 to the PFC for each donation received. Now that the company has reached their donation goal, they have been able to hire one staff member back to get ready for reopening.
“We’ve been welcomed with open arms by both our neighbouring businesses and the community. We are so grateful to have a strong BIA and to be part of a neighborhood that values ‘shopping local,’” Whitehorne said.
Summer Baird, owner of the Hintonburg Public House, said the crowdfunding page has been a “huge lift for her spirits.” Her business recently reached its $6,000 goal, allowing it to re-open for takeout and delivery.
“I am thrilled that we have hit our target and I am very grateful to everyone who has supported not only the HPH, but Parkdale Food Centre and local artists that we have collaborated with as well,” Baird said in an email to Kitchissippi Times.
“The support we are seeing there has given me hope we can last through this thing,” she added.