How Alex Bottausci And The City of Dollard Are Supporting Local Businesses

Last week we had the chance to catch up with the Mayor of Dollard-des-Ormeaux, Alex Bottausci. This article is the result of that conversation.

How Alex Bottausci And The City of Dollard Are Supporting Local Businesses

It’s been a little over a year since the pandemic began, and local businesses across the country have been battling lockdowns, new and changing regulations, and uncertainty for most of the past 13 or 14 months. While minimizing the spread of COVID-19 has been a priority, it has without a doubt been a difficult year for businesses, especially independent small businesses. While business owners and entrepreneurs have been pivoting, so have the towns and cities in which they operate. In Dollard-des-Ormeaux, located on the West Island of Montreal, Mayor Alex Bottausci shared some insights into what shifts have been made, how the city is helping businesses, and what the post-pandemic landscape of Dollard-des-Ormeaux could look like.

When The Pandemic First Reached Quebec

A year ago, Mayor Bottausci explained, the messaging from officials to businesses and individuals was largely education-based:

“At the start, no one knew what was going on. How can a business owner suddenly be expected to deal with COVID-19?”

A lot of time went into first learning about the virus and then transmitting the latest information to business owners. And not only transmitting the information but helping businesses understand and implement health protocols; for example, setting up aisles for appropriate traffic flow.

“A lot of information about the virus was sent to business owners in very formal, official French-language documents, whereas many are Anglophones [or French is their second language]. We helped the best we could with understanding, helping find masks, etc.,” said Alex Bottausci.

The past year has been a long learning curve, but after the initial wave of unknowns the pandemic brought with it, small businesses and communities have now entered a “new reality.”

“Keeping your distance, wearing masks – these things are ingrained now.”

Shifting From Education to Tangible Help

Things shifted from education about the virus to how the city could best help small businesses. The Montreal, Provincial, and Federal governments were able to come together and provide grants for business owners. Mayor Bottausci gave credit to his fellow government counterparts for their collaborative efforts on many fronts. The collaboration includes information about all available funding programs across government levels was shared with local businesses to provide as much relief as possible.

Dollard-des-Ormeaux adopted a Shop Local, Buy Local slogan, and Mayor Bottausci was keen to put the city’s money where its mouth was. For example, last year’s virtual Christmas event featured gifts from local vendors, and the focus going forward is to continue to keep it as local as possible. For Alex Bottausci it’s not just about “keep it in Quebec or the city of Montreal,” but right down to his riding of Dollard-Des-Ormeaux whenever possible.

Infrastructure projects also became a big focus as many restaurants and cafes began opening patios and expanding outdoor dining. Laws were relaxed to allow permits to be granted much more quickly, and car dealerships were permitted to fly flags advertising their businesses.

“Drastic times call for drastic measures,” said Mayor Bottausci. It was important to him and his office to pull out all the stops and allow businesses to take action that would help them survive the pandemic.

The city of Dollard-Des-Ormeaux recently launched a new website. While there are still updates coming, it’s a work in progress Mayor Bottausci is proud of.

“There is a strong business community in Dollard-Des-Ormeaux,” he said. “One of my dreams as Mayor is to really build up that community. We wanted to make sure there was a space on the site where business owners can go to find the information they need quickly and easily – information on things like permits.”

Fostering A Team Environment At City Hall Also A Priority

Mayor Bottausci also took a moment to focus on the hard work his team has been doing. 

“It is easy to focus on the negative when talking about the pandemic, but the City rose to the challenge,” he said. “We’re stronger not only as individuals but as a team. We continue to give services to the community and have become more nimble in how we do that.”

“Moving forward, we have to ask ourselves: were all of these stops really necessary? I think there will be a shift back in some ways, but not totally.”

What does the city of Dollard-Des-Ormeaux look like in the future? Developers are already changing their plans by moving away from large office buildings to creating small eco-systems, with local businesses on the first floor and residential quarters above, the Mayor said.

“It creates an ecosystem where you come home from work and pick up what you need from within your own building. You can’t go from zero to 100, but you can go a little bit at a time.”

For Mayor Alex Bottausci, that shift is what it’s all about: Creating environments conducive to businesses thriving – now, and post-pandemic, too.

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Since the beginning of the pandemic, 10|20 Marketing has been supporting small businesses by sharing stories of business owners to shine some light on their effects and keep them in the news. If you own a business in DDO or anywhere for that matter, we’d be happy to share your story too. Just let us know you’re interested and we’ll be happy to work on your story too.

 

Building Community At Centaur Theatre During the Pandemic

The pandemic has strained many businesses in many industries, but what do you do when your business is all about building community through public gatherings and live performances? We recently spoke with Eda Holmes, Artistic and Executive Director at Centaur Theatre in Old Montreal, about planning, pivoting, and re-planning throughout the past twelve months.

Before joining the Centaur Theatre in Montreal, Eda was a ballerina, first with the San Francisco Ballet and later with the Dutch National Ballet and Frankfurt Ballet under William Forsythe. When a knee injury sidelined her, she knew it was time to transition. Eda wanted to stay in the performing arts industry. With a love of storytelling, directing programs was a natural transition, and she eventually landed at Centaur Theatre here in Montreal full-time.

Quality, relevance, and bridge-building

If you’re familiar with Centaur Theatre or the arts scene, you’ll already know the special place Centaur Theatre holds in the local landscape. Eda’s goal was to build on the rich reputation that Centaur has for producing high-quality, relevant contemporary English language theatre and make the organization even more inclusive of all Montreal community aspects.

“My three guiding principles are quality, relevance, and bridge-building so that every aspect of the organization gradually becomes a brilliant reflection of the diversity of languages and cultures that make Montreal such a unique and exciting city,” she told us.

“The pandemic is giving us a moment to really reflect on what place theatre occupies in our society and our lives. We have an opportunity to actively re-examine what we value about the arts and especially narrative art – like theatre. As the incredible African/American playwright August Wilson has said, ‘A community is only as strong as the stories it tells about itself.’ So I am looking to build up our capacity to tell the stories of our times and our city in the most compelling and engaging ways possible – and to become an incubator for artists that reflect our city’s rich diversity.”

Adapting to the new reality

Centaur Theatre has been taking a page from the movie and cinema fields as much as possible (though the budget to test large casts isn’t there). Actors have been rehearsing in preparation for any potential upcoming performances, and spring and summer bring relief and hopes of opening again soon.

But while the desire to reopen is powerful, the danger of doing so too early is real.

“We’re learning how to work and adapt. Compared to last year, we have much more information about the virus, which has helped us make decisions that provide a forward motion but keeps everyone safe,” explained Eda.

Internally, the Social Justice movement we saw in 2020 has changed the conversation around how to support the community. Last year, Centaur launched the Artistic Diversity Discussion (ADD) at Centaur initiative. Throughout the year, the five-member panel will meet with Centaur Theatre board members and Eda to develop more ways to de-stigmatize and celebrate diversity on stage and off. The ADD @ Centaur will roll out through ongoing and new initiatives as the year unfolds, the first of which was the initiative named Saturday Salons. Centaur Theatre has also created a year-long residency for an Indigenous theatre artist interested in stories that reflect the Indigenous heritage of the Island of Montreal and the Province of Quebec. An announcement will be made soon about this residency!

A new Old Montreal scene

Pre-COVID, Vieux Montreal, where Centaur is located, was coming into its own with shops, restaurants, bars, and genuinely unique hotels. It is also a neighbourhood that thrives on tourism, depending on summer travel and winter holiday parties, so the lockdowns have been particularly painful. Typically, a bustling business worker crowd eats lunch and has drinks and goes to the theatre.

When the first lockdown happened, Centaur planned to do more outdoor theatre.

“We hope that it will be part of a variety of projects that will entice Montrealers to come down and discover the incredible beauty that Old Montreal has to offer,” Eda said at the time.

Still, the ever-changing in-and-out of lockdown status has kept Eda and Centaur Theatre on their toes.

“We keep planning and re-planning, but we’re starting to run out of letters of the alphabet,” she joked.

“This virus is challenging to everyone who depends on – and is even defined by – people gathering in warm, friendly and intimate settings. There is much talk of “pivoting,” but that is not something a neighbourhood known for its narrow cobblestone streets and delightful little bars and restos, museums and theatres can do in the short term. We have to try to be as creative and as resilient as possible.”

New projects to be excited about

A new project born out of the pandemic is the Portico project. The Portico Project, a new initiative designed to present theatre safely outside in the Portico and on the steps in front of the theatre, is scheduled to take place again this year in September. Even though some of the performances last year had to be cancelled when the first big lockdown happened, everyone is hopeful that this unique celebration of live theatre outside can go ahead uninterrupted this year. Cross your fingers and come on down to St. Francois-Xavier.

“As a small community, it’s been hard to be constantly planning and re-planning,” said Eda. “But it has been nice to have small business connections in the community to go through this together.”

Learn more about Centaur Theatre’s Portico Project, ADD @ Centaur, or purchase tickets to their upcoming MOB performance. You can also support the Centaur Theatre by making an individual donation.

Best Practices for Google My Business To Lessen The Impact of COVID-19 Security Measures

These are not normal times for businesses across the world. With the COVID-19 pandemic spreading like wildfire, business owners are not just worried for their health, they’re worried what the impact of this new world will be on their business. Our view? It’s time to double down on your online infrastructure where possible. Prepare your business to be the first thing people see when they search for goods and services that you offer. The good news is that there are many things you can do for yourself, especially as it pertains to your online business listings. Follow these best practices for Google My Business.

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10 Ways to Continue Supporting Local Businesses In Challenging Times

Saying times are weird right now might be the understatement of 2020, but it really is new, uncharted waters out there thanks to the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19. A lot of cities – and some entire countries – are on some form of lock-down, and while that might seem scary, it’s a pro-active measure to keep as many people safe as possible.

But while we’re doing our best social distancing, there are still local shops and businesses that are open, even if it’s at a reduced capacity. The Canadian economy as a whole has and will definitely take a hit, but it’s the independently-owned local businesses and their staff who are struggling the most. Many of the gyms, yoga studios, bars, restaurants, and wellness centres (like spas or massage therapy clinics) have all but shut their doors indefinitely.

10 Ways to Continue to Support Local Businesses Today

Fortunately, there are still ways to practice social distancing and support local businesses. Here are our top 10:

  1. Order Take-Out or Delivery

    Many restaurants, bars, and cafes have had to close their dining sections, but are still open for take-out or delivery options. Using an app to order and pay ahead of time can help minimize risks even more by eliminating the need for money to exchange hands.

  2. Purchase a Gift Card

    Birthdays, holidays, and special occasions will still happen this year. Why not order that gift card for that special someone now? Many shops are set-up to allow the purchase of gift cards online, so there’s no need to leave home.

  3. Book in Advance

    Though not mandated to close (yet), many spas, clinics, and treatment centres are experiencing cancellations left, right, and centre. If you cancel an appointment, why not reschedule it for next month? If you don’t have one booked, go ahead and treat yourself to a service – many online booking calendars are still open and taking bookings after we get through the next few weeks.

  4. Order Artwork

    What better time than now to order that painting you’ve been wanting for the living room wall? Many local artists have paintings, sculptures, or other pieces available for purchase, or take commissions. Reach out to your favourite local artist to see if they have what you’ve been looking for.

  5. Sign-up for Online Classes

    Many gyms, yoga studios, and fitness centers are offering live-streamed workouts you can do at home. If there is a paid option available and you have the means, opting for this service versus a free video can make all the difference in helping them keep their doors open.

  6. Purchase Services Still Being Offered

    Online service-based businesses are often still operating Business as Usual! Take advantage of the services they offer now while you have some downtime. If you’ve been wanting to learn more about a topic, now’s a great opportunity to go ahead and sign-up for that online course!

  7. Leave Google and Facebook Reviews

    Today’s consumer puts a lot of weight into online reviews from previous customers when deciding whether or not to make a purchase. If you’ve visited or purchased from a local business and were happy with the service, leave them a review! It really does go a long way to support local businesses.

  8. Buy Groceries from Local Shops

    One of the few things we’re leaving home for is to stock up on groceries. Instead of buying from chain stores, consider heading to a small mom + pop shop if there is one in your neighbourhood.

  9. Do Your Birthday Shopping Now

    Many product-based businesses offer online shopping already! Why not spend some time browsing through their online stores and check off all of the birthdays you have coming up in the next few months. If you’re really ambitious, you could even get your Christmas shopping started!

  10. Share on Social Media

    When you’re scrolling through Instagram or Facebook later, hit that Like button and share their posts. It’s a small act that builds awareness about your favourite local shops, and will help everything return to a sense of normalcy when this all passes.

What are some of your favourite ways to support local businesses? Is there a tip we missed? Share it with us in the comments! And in the meantime, stay safe and healthy out there, friends! And salute small businesses in your own way too!