Jennifer McLaughlin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The Stouffville Chamber of Commerce hopes to see several Main Street businesses benefit from the federally-funded My Main Street Local Business Accelerator program grants. Nature’s Gifts and Organic Spa is the first.
Owner and founder Janice Patera was thrilled to learn that her business was chosen to receive the $10,000 non-repayable grant for business development.
In June 2021, the Stouffville Chamber entered into a memorandum of understanding with the town to assume management of the downtown business area. Since then, it has been working to support the businesses as they recover from COVID-19.
The chamber applied for the My Main Street Local Business Accelerator program late last year and was one of 65 southern Ontario main street business areas selected.
“(My Main Street Local Business Accelerator program) was one more opportunity that was presented to us, and we’re happy to have been chosen,” said Karen Wootton, executive director of the Stouffville Chamber of Commerce.
My Main Street is a $23.25-million investment by the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario. It is jointly managed by the Economic Developers Council of Ontario (EDCO) and the Canadian Urban Institute (CUI).
The initiative intends to help drive business and restore vibrancy to local communities across southern Ontario in the aftermath of COVID-19.
As a selected participant, funding was provided to the chamber to hire a Main Street Ambassador for a 12-month period.
As the Main Street Ambassador, Karen Mortfield advises qualified and interested downtown businesses on how to effectively collect and use market research and share community resources. She also provides information about funding programs, including the My Main Street grants.
With Mortfield’s guidance, business owners gain valuable insight through market research to steer their business and make informed decisions. From there, they decide if they want to apply for funding.
The Stouffville Chamber of Commerce’s participation in the program allows for up to ten of its Main Street businesses to apply for non-repayable $10,000 grants.
Wootton explained that the potential to put up to $100,000 into local businesses is what inspired the chamber to apply for the My Main Street program.
“Given the fact that so many of these businesses realized significant losses during (COVID-19) shutdown, it can be a real game-changer for them,” she said.
Like many small business owners, Patera is passionate about her store and spa. Surviving a diagnosis of breast cancer in 2016 drives her motivation to provide the community with “a healing space.”
Nature’s Gifts and Organic Spa opened in 2019. Typical for any new business, Patera was in debt due to renovations and stocking the store with merchandise. Then COVID-19 hit.
The lockdowns and pandemic restrictions severely impacted the business, which didn’t qualify for many of the subsidies given the short time it had been open. Patera was forced to take whatever government loans she could and secured an additional line of credit to cover rent and make loan payments.
In total, the business incurred losses of about $100,000 due to the pandemic. To date, the operation has not returned to pre-pandemic demand levels, but Patera is staying very optimistic.
Nature’s Gifts offers organic wellness products for the mind and body, spa and medi-spa treatments, and a broad range of holistic healing interventions including registered massage therapy, Thai massage, osteopathy, nutrition, and yoga.
“I wanted to filter into my space a lot of the modalities that helped me heal and go through the whole transition of having cancer,” said Patera.
For that reason, she was determined to have a salt cave at the heart of the operation. Patera visited a salt cave to heal from severe radiation damage after her body rejected the treatments.
Her oncologist recommended she stop radiation immediately and gave her a prescription “the size of (a) kitchen table.” Going the medicinal route didn’t resonate with her, and she learned about salt caves from a breast cancer forum.
Given her medical background, Patera has an appreciation for Western medicine but also embraces the benefits of Eastern medicine. “I’m just trying to teach people that there are other ways to heal.”
The $10,000 grant doesn’t make up for even a fraction of the pandemic losses. But it allows Patera to focus on regenerating some of the lost demand using marketing techniques– an expense she didn’t have the money for otherwise.
Patera just revamped her website and did search engine optimization (SEO) and Google ads. She also enhanced her social media exposure.
She credits Mortfield for assisting her with carrying out the initial market research, and then it was “about two months of us banging our heads together to apply for this grant and making sure it was awesome.”
Most small business owners like Patera “don’t have a lot of time, they don’t know how to fill out grant applications, and so the Main Street Ambassador really takes the time to sit down with them and guides them through that process,” said Wootton.
“I think it’s a fabulous program. We’re certainly delighted to be a part of it, and we’re thrilled at the prospect of being able to facilitate local businesses getting these sorts of grants,” Wootton added. “We’re hopeful that many, many more businesses will benefit.”
Other Stouffville Main Street businesses are at various stages of application and review for $10,000 grants. Wootton confirmed that businesses have until the end of the year to apply.
Visit mymainstreet.ca, naturesgiftandorganicspa.com, and stouffvillechamber.ca for information.
Photo: Janice Patera, owner of Nature’s Gifts and Organic Spa, is using the $10,000 My Main Street Local Business Accelerator program grant to boost her business’ exposure through various marketing initiatives.