Recovery Project/Plan

Downtowns of Durham

Submitted ByRegion of Durham

Durham Region Economic Development formed the Durham Economic Task Force (DETF) in early March 2020 in response to the COVID crisis. In an early meeting of the DETF, it was determined that the downtown areas would be hard-hit economically, due to the unique challenges facing these business areas, such as limited ability to promote events, and the halting of tourism.

A meeting with all Durham Region BIAs and Durham Region’s Economic Development and Tourism team was hosted to strategize what could be done in response. It was identified that a project to promote the downtown areas would be beneficial; both to promote the COVID-specific business offerings (such as curbside pick-up), as well as to promote recovery. As a response, the website project was conceived.

The website launched May 21, 2020, featuring the 13 areas of Durham Region: Ajax, Beaverton, Bowmanville, Brooklin, Cannington, Newcastle, Orono, Oshawa, Pickering Village, Port Perry, Sunderland, Uxbridge and Whitby.

In each section, there is a directory of businesses, searchable by map (utilizing the Google API), and by categories (Food and Beverage, Personal Services, Professional Services, and Retail or Direct to Consumer). Each business is represented with a listing that includes operational information (We are Operating, Shop Online, Local Delivery, Curbside Pick Up), space to provide detailed COVID-specific messaging, and space for a business description, placed alongside contact information.

Over 800 business listings were pre-populated on the site at launch, and more are added upon request. Ongoing listing refinements are being completed by Durham Region staff.

The site also has a “stories” section. At launch, 13 blog posts were commissioned, with one for each area reflected. The stories were written by residents, indicating their favourite shops and restaurants and reasons to visit each downtown. The stories section welcomes contributors.

The target audience is defined as ages 25-45, approximately 60% female and 40% male, and residents of Durham Region or places within one hour’s drive of Durham Region.

To promote the site, a series of activities took place:

  • A virtual meeting was hosted with all area mayors to introduce the project;
  • A video was launched featuring business owners encouraging residents to rediscover downtowns and support local business;
  • A social media campaign; including providing DETF members and BIAs custom graphics for their downtown areas, ‘cheat sheets’ of draft social media messages, suggested account tags, and hashtags;
  • A press release to media, paid social and print advertising, and media interviews

The project was challenging to produce quickly; gathering detailed information for 800 businesses required an intense data accuracy project and extensive collaboration among BIAs, many of which are volunteer-run. Research assistance from some re-deployed staff at the Region of Durham has benefitted the ongoing accuracy of the site.

The website has received nearly 20,000 page views since launch. The promotional video has received nearly 45,000 views across platforms.

Phase 2 plans include technical enhancements making the site more sustainable to maintain. The addition of a 14th downtown area (Pickering Nautical Village) is planned, as well as extensive content marketing activities. A new section “Spaces” will be added, that will be used to promote storefronts and offices available for rent, further supporting the recovery of these districts.