Main Street Retailers Must Get Online to Survive Amid Pandemic: Experts

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As ‘non-essential’ retailers have been forced to close across the country for an unspecified time, it is now vital for small main street businesses to cultivate an online presence. Prior to COVID-19, ecommerce was taking the retail world by storm. However, until now, building a digital network was merely good business advice. Today, it may be the difference between the life and death of a main street business.

The current economic state in Canada is severely cracked. COVID-19 has ignited a wave of unprecedented temporary store closures, and across the retail landscape this could mean potential ruin for many small Canadian businesses.

Being forced to close your doors without any guarantee as to when you will be able to reopen is major for any small business with a lower cash flow, and the questions of what to do with left-behind stock and how to keep up with rent payments are at the forefront of all small business owners minds.


Since its establishment in 2016, many main street businesses have turned to Toronto-based Digital Main Street for assistance in the digital realm of their retail organization. Having created a tried-and-tested program that promotes digital growth for main street businesses, Digital Main Street has catapulted thousands of main street businesses into a digital transformation, via the introduction of digital tools and technologies.

Digital Main Street was created by the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas (TABIA), in partnership and with direct support from the City of Toronto. The organization is also supported by a group of strategic partners, including Google, MasterCard, Microsoft, and Shopify.

During this unprecedented and turbulent time, and as COVID-19 threatens to ruin the businesses that contribute to our local communities, TABIA and Digital Main Street are wholly committed to continuing their involvement in main street business development and fulfillment. Now, more than ever, the adoption and implementation of digital tools and technology is indispensable.


Moving forward, DMS have taken keen measures to ensure that, despite the uncertainty, main street enterprises still have access to assistance and guidance. Having adapted its services to ensure the health and safety of employees and business owners, Digital Main Street is still able to provide the same level of care and still exists as a hub for digital transformation guidance. Businesses are encouraged to access the free online Digital Transformation Training Program to help with any digital inquiries.

DMS has implemented some key procedures to ensure that all involved are protected during the uncertainty, all while continuing to provide the same access to resources and support. While enacting a work-from-home policy for all employees, Digital Main Street is still offering workshops and one-on-one training. The only difference is that now the support is conducted virtually. The team has put together various resources to help businesses navigate this crisis.

The Digital Service Squad —once an interactive, hands-on training service — will be continuing to service businesses remotely in active areas. If you have any questions about booking an appointment with the Digital Service Squad or to check if there is a DSS servicing your region please email


Digital Main Street was introduced in Toronto four years ago due to a recognized gap in the marketplace. Businesses needed the tools and technology to adapt and grow to today’s omnichannel world of retail, but without the knowledge and resources, the concept of introducing ecommerce to their business model was often beyond comprehension.

“Digital Main Street shows the ingenuity of Toronto’s digital and technology business community to create essential tools and services of benefit to all main street businesses,” said John Kiru, Executive Director of TABIA. “Toronto’s BIAs have been a leader worldwide in the development of private and public sector partnerships, and this project builds upon that tradition of innovation and collaboration.”

The program is built around an online learning platform, structured training programs (both in person and online), and the Digital Service Squad – a team of recent graduates who help business owners activate and implement new Digital tools and technologies.


With a foundational and hands-on approach to educating, empowering, and implementing, Digital Main Street operates under a model that allows business owners to execute and activate digital tools and technologies, often in real time and with the active assistance of the DMS team. This interactive method promotes continued learning long after the DMS team have left the store.

To achieve this, Digital Main Street recognized the need for a complete 360-degree support program. Included in this all-encompassing tool are three foundational pillars, all of which are designed to “drag your business into the 21st Century.”

Web Platform

This comprehensive online web platform provides access to curated content, thought leadership, skill training, and much more. In addition, a complete directory of local vendors is available, providing recommendations when a business is looking to complete a project. At the core of this web platform is the Digital Assessment too. Giving participating businesses the opportunity to take a 40 question “Yes/No” questionnaire to provide a benchmark and appropriate set of recommendations to consider based on their answers.

Digital Main Street Academy

The Digital Main Street Academy is a complete collection of in-person and online training sessions. The academy features numerous online education programs, an example being the online video based “Digital Transformation for Main Street business” course that was launched in late 2018.

Digital Service Squad

Lastly, to ensure businesses have the complete 360 support, the Digital Service Squad was established. Providing businesses with one-on-one, hands-on support, the Digital Service Squad allows business owners to work with a trained team of students and recent graduates. This team of street-level DMS members go directly into main street businesses to work alongside the owner and/or staff to guide them as they begin to execute their Digital Transformation.

Despite the initial project only including businesses across Toronto’s 83 BIAs, it soon became apparent that the foundational elements of DMS are applicable to small businesses in communities all across North America. Today Digital Main Street is active in 400 cities/communities across Ontario, and it has big plans to grow across the country and into the US.

As we face an equivocal future, Digital Main Street is dedicated to supporting the businesses that create vibrant neighbourhoods and maintain a high quality of life for the surrounding communities. The team is urging main street businesses to avail of its services, especially now, during a time where digital presence has never been more vital.

Darryl Julott, Senior Manager at Digital Main Street, addressed the DMS community by saying, “As we grapple with the unprecedented scale and human impact of this pandemic, our community continues to support and learn from each other. I invite you to reach out and connect with us – you can share any questions you may have regarding to your digital presence, or otherwise. The Digital Main Street team is here to listen and support.”

To learn more about Digital Main Street and how your business can evolve in a digital world visit

Article Author

Jessica Finch
Jessica Finch
Jessica Finch is a writer and editor based in Toronto. She holds a BA in English and Psychology and is a graduate of Ryerson University’s Publishing program. She has extensive managerial experience in the food service industry, and is interested in exploring innovations within this sector and other retail environments.

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