Opportunity Cost

13 Jul

Tip Sheet: Windsor’s Downtown Businesses on Business

One month later, the ‘elusive’ tip sheet has materialized. It is the culmination of our field research in Windsosr during our participation in the Storefront Residency for Social Innovation.

The Tip Sheet is meant to be distributed to every business owner in the Downtown Windsor Business Association (DWBIA), and we hope it to be accessed and used by potential and new business owners as well. So far we have given copies to the DWBIA and city planning department, with the request for it to be distributed.

The information found on this sheet is a reflection of the knowledge and attitudes of Windsor’s downtown business community. This project is an attempt to create a user driven process. Our role was to engage, collect, and present back to a wider audence, exploring the topic of success in Windsor’s downtown business community. Working men and women of the world unite, your chains are your own to lose.

We would like to thank the businesses owners who agreed to be interviewed, those that participated in Speed Dating for Store Owners, as well as, Broken City Lab, Tom Lucier, and Drunkin’ Burrito.

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Speed Dating for Store Owners

10 Jul

July 8, 2010 @ 406 Pelisser, 7:00pm to 8:45pm

Organizations in Attendance:

Spotvin, Milk Coffee Bar, Pizza Pizza, RBC, DWBIA, Windsoreats.com, Govital Internet, Board Walk Bikes & Ice Cream, Ra Design, Phog Lounge, The House, Visions of Canada, Bloom, Slice of Style, Capish? Bling Bling, Christian Science Reading Room, Downtown Cigar Shop, Durnkin’ Burrito, Windsor Pride, and Broken City Lab.

Event Description:

Speed Dating for Store Owners was developed as part of the Storefront Residency for Social Innovation. Department of Unusual Certainties has been working out 410 Pelissier for the last month on a project called Storefront Success Stories where they have been working with downtown business owners to create new connections, knowledge, and practices.

While the night was a networking opportunity for the organization representatives present with a focus on sharing successes and frustrations from operating in downtown Windsor. The evening was imagined as the start of a conversation rather than a final solution.

After 20 3-minute one-on-one meetings between each of the organization representatives, the event shifted towards a group discussion identifying common themes from the speed dating.

Identified themes included:

  1. Communication
  2. Tax relief to landlords with vacant storefronts
  3. Parking
  4. Perception of Safety Downtown
  5. Diversity in mix of businesses
  6. Absence of basic public facilities (i.e. washrooms and bike parking)

After identifying common issues raised during speed dating the discussion moved towards solutions. Time was spent identifying solutions that already exist that people were not aware of, as well as imagining new responses. An overarching theme was that downtown has an image problem. It was suggested that there are perceptions about downtown that conflict with the lifestyle choices of the average Windsorite, keeping people from coming downtown. This came up during the discussions around both parking and safety. Specifically for parking the fallacy in the common perception around lack of parking was shown.

There were both short and long term responses suggested. There seemed to be agreement that addressing larger ingrained perceptions about downtown will take longer term responses. The group did not address all of the concerns expressed. The night closed with asking if there was interest in this type of activity happening again. There was agreement that yes that would be useful. The meeting adjourned to allow for further networking/socializing around the refreshments provided by Emily Colombo (also in residency as part of the SRSI), and Drunkin’ Burrito.

The absence of tourists from Michigan was never mentioned; although, there was not a representative number of club, bar, or lounge owners present.

1. Communication

A general issue of awareness and connection within the larger downtown community was identified. What are the existing avenues for promotion of events and new businesses openings?

  • Welcome Package or Tool Kit for new businesses, or people thinking about opening a businesses downtown. A tool kit does exist but a DWBIA representative identified it needs to be updated. A question was posed whether it could be distributed to new business owners through the city licensing department.
  • DWBIA does not have current information for all existing businesses in its boundaries. A closer working relationship with the city licensing department was suggested. (i.e. The licensing department send a list of new businesses opening in the DWBIA boundaries to the DWBIA at regular intervals)
  • Install community posting polls in front of largest apartment buildings downtown. Pay for them through a sponsorship (i.e. Kijiji)
  • Reach out through traditional media with stories communicating a local focus sharing downtown people’s stories & passions

Tax relief to landlords with vacant properties

Landlords of vacant spaces receive a 65% reduction to their property taxes. It was felt that this is an incentive to landlords to leave their properties vacant rather than finding new tenants. It was observed that there are precedents of cities doing the opposite, where they offer landlords a percentage of relief to their property tax when they fill vacant spaces with businesses that create a certain number of jobs.

Municipal elections in Windsor are approaching on Oct. 25, 2010. Interest was expressed in making vacancies an election issue. It was observed that consistent decisions from city hall have had negative implications for the downtown (development choices that draw people away i.e. building the arena in the East end, as well as moving significant civic parades out of downtown, etc.).

  • Develop a questionnaire to be sent to each candidate running for city councillor in the downtown riding with the results published in a public forum (i.e. downtown blog)

Parking

A contentious issue that reaches to the core habits of Windsorites. Both an actual issue and one of perception. There is a plenitude of parking with more than two parking garages making most places in the city centre no more than a 5 minute walk. Although some individuals did share anecdotes about over zealous metre maids.

  • Change the story on parking, market the plenitude of parking available
  • Address larger attitudes around walking
    • Develop a walking tour that showcases downtown’s beauty and history
  • Downtown Parking Token Program – This program is popular with downtown businesses wishing to give their patrons a 50% saving on curbside parking.  Businesses can purchase up to four rolls of parking tokens each month, at a cost of $5.00 per roll (a $10 value)
  • Overlay a scale map of Devonshire mall and its parking lots onto the Downtown comparing walking distances

Thank you to: Broken City Lab, Tom Lucier, Emily Colombo, Drunkin’ Burrito, and Windsor Pride, and Laura Paolini.

Peter, an out-of-towner, who is interested in moving himself and his business to Windsor, got a parking ticket during the event...




Phase 2

2 Jul

Ten days are left in the project. We are continuing to conduct interviews with store owners but are wrapping up other veins of inquiry. We’ve  finished our interviews with people about their routine behaviors, access to, and realization of their desires in the downtown. We will be visualizing their responses to share with business owners at Speed Dating for Store Owners.

Maybe it would be hasty of me to make a direct correlation between the two but with 19 vacant storefronts along Pelissier the construction must be doing something to these small businesses. Taking the advice of a local concert venue operator (not Tom) we’ve paired our operations down. This has involved moving one of our two desks into the hallway. Our working process has become significantly streamlined.

Over an excellent lunch at Mandarin House we started making decisions about the final form of the Tip Sheet. Our 30+ previous categories have been focused down into two, that of growth and image.

Image

Many Doors Along the Same Hallway

30 Jun

Chris Edwards, executive director of the Downtown Windsor BIA, speaks with the Department about Speed Dating for Store Owners

Adam (left), Charday (centre), and Said (right), three members of the partnership operating Drunkin' Burrito (419 Ouellette Avenue)

Ming Shen, owner and chef, of Mandarin House (331 Ouellette Avenue)

We’ve completed three interviews so far today. The first was with Victor a financial adviser with TD, the second with Said one member of the partnership operating Drunkin’ Burrito and finally with Ming from Mandarin House.  We’re grateful to each of these individuals for taking the time to speak with us.

Victor came highly recommended to us by a store owner we interviewed yesterday. Our conversation focused on the role of the bank in supporting new and growing business ventures through lending money. We asked them how best to approach a bank. His advice was as follows: approach them with a fully researched business plan that communicates a clear vision for your business, including awareness of market trends, and your competition, as well as honest financial projections. Victor also said that a prospective business owners’ personal and financial history are taken into consideration. If this new venture doesn’t appear as a logical transition (to the bank) in your life, identify strategic partnerships that can be bring in that missing experience to the project. All past credit is taken into consideration for your application. He suggested canceling any credit cards you aren’t using, and if there are multiple cards to cancel them at the same time opposed to over a period of time. We closed the interview by asking him what his definition of success was. He simply stated that success is not a coincidence.

Where is this information going?

28 Jun

Its been a successful day. What does success mean in this context? Well, to begin, regardless of having slept in an hour past the time Chris and I wanted to be at the storefront we still seem be consistently pushing each of the three areas of our project forward.  We completed the invitation for the Speed Dating for Store Owners (downtown isn’t just a 3 minute romance) event taking place on July 8th. We also delivered 20 invitations to business along Chatam and Oullette, completed three customer interviews, and have a clearer understanding of the tip sheet for store owners we are working towards creating.

Chris interviews Brandon (left) and Jake (right) about how they use the downtown

An interview with Sherice, a local graphic designer, pedestrian, and new citizen of Windsor, about how she accesses and engages with the core.

I thought I had setup concrete plans to interview a downtown landlord and business owner. When we went to meet him he was busting his ass to prepare for a building inspection. The interview was rescheduled for next Wednesday. If Andrea was here she would smack her shoulder twice and then brush it off. He would have been an interesting gentleman to have spoken with. He owns several properties clustered together all relating to Windsor’s nightlife. He is renovating an old cafe into a another bar. Its a narrow space 30 meters deep, with the bar running the full length. Its going to be one of those dark wood and grey tile floor type spaces. I wonder if he already has his liquor license?

Handing out invitations to business owners we received mixed reactions. Of course there was the forty-five to fifty-five year old man (the archetype of resistance to change? Yes. As well as, the object of study in an upcoming project) who expressed a cynicism that amounted to a complete acceptance of Windsor downtown’s failure in all instances but the return of tourism from Michigan on par with twenty years ago. As well as, more positive responses. Of the actual owners I spoke with there seemed to be an honesty in their ‘I’ll try and be there’. Two lessons learned, first, include the day of the week the event is on in the invitation, and second, don’t forget to ask people to RSVP.

Some important questions came out of the days interactions. In describing the larger Storefront Success Stories project business owners were very curious in knowing what we are doing with the information; some even wondered if the Downtown BIA was not already performing this function. Its prompted us to approach our interviews with business owners differently. Rather than laying out set questions, we’ve defined categories we want the tip sheet to address. We hope this will allow us to have more fluid conversations.

A few contradictions seem to be emerging within the project.  I recently came across this quote from Deluze and Guattari: “Even socialist don’t believe capitalism with fail through attrition…nothing dies from contradiction.”

Tomorrow we’ll hand out another 40 invitation and complete two more interviews…

Cataloguing and The Politics of the Spread Sheet

26 Jun

Cataloguing

The mapping and cataloguing of the Windsor Downtown BI A has been completed. This task has provided us with two important findings: The first is an understanding of the downtown, albeit a very autocratic one. The task of cataloguing every store within the downtown BIA was never meant to function as a way to understand downtown Windsor from a social or cultural perspective, but instead an understanding of the individual function and role each of the streets play in the conglomeration of what is defined as the Downtown Windsor BIA. The second is a compilation of qualitative data which will allow us to generate information for the Tip Sheet. This data is not meant to define or redefine anything, but instead allow us the freedom to create statistics based on what we cognitively recorded during our field work. What we feel is important is that the different forms information generated by this project come always from the ground up- through observation and listening.

Spread Sheets

Notes are great. However they lack the ability to process and organize large amounts of information in a timely manner. Transforming our cognitive data into digital data allows us both to understand the real relationships and changes occurring in the downtown BIA, as well as the speculative ones. The categories we have chosen are based both on typical categories related to the service sector (Financial Services) but include our own ideas of what those categories mean to us (Manistream Financial Services vs. Predatory Financial Services) . The data will then be transformed into a series of infographics amongst the other information being placed on the now elusive “Tip Sheet”

Being there

25 Jun

Over the last two and half days we’ve completed a mapping exercise of Windsor’s Downtown Business Improvement Area. With the help of two ‘interns’, Josh and Rosina of BCL, Chris and I have walked each street within our defined catchment area recording information about all businesses and vacancies. An areal map posted at HQ helped us track our progress. We crossed off streets on the map as they were completed, also summarizing our experience of each street into one descriptive statement (i.e. ‘Chatam: entertainment for the people’, or ‘University: a little less bary than Chatam;). We are also inputting all of the information we’ve collected including, businesses addresses, names, functions, and any additional observations that could be made from viewing the storefront from the street, into a spread sheet for additional analysis that will feed into our final piece for this residency, the ‘Tip Sheet’.