Grants to help create a buzz for businesses

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Brookline Boulevard is the first winner of a city grant to help small retail corridors market their brand and generate more foot traffic.

The Pittsburgh Biz Buzz Small Grant Program dispensed $2,500 to Brookline retailers through the fiscal agency of the nonprofit South Pittsburgh Development Corp.

The city Urban Redevelopment Authority is administering a pool of $45,000 that could go to as many as eight small retail areas that are not eligible for funding from the state Main Street program.

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl launched the initiative last week during a ceremony at Brookline's Cannon Coffee, whose co-owner, Nathan Mallory, is on the board of the Brookline Chamber of Commerce and active in a new branding project.

Using the slogan "Because You're Mine I Walk the Line," merchants hope to draw business in by offering a $5 reward card for every $50 in receipts from boulevard shops. The receipts can be turned in at Cannon Coffee or A Boss Opticians.

"Our proposal is designed to encourage neighborhood residents to shop locally and to rebrand the Brookline Boulevard as an entire business district -- not just a couple of bakeries and a few restaurants," Mr. Mallory said. "With the help of the Biz Buzz funding, we're hoping to get the word out about Brookline and bring in new customers -- and possibly new residents.

"I don't care how effective [the $5 reward card campaign] is as long as it gets people on the boulevard as a whole, to see the brand and realize the benefit of local shopping."

The campaign will include a "Because You're Mine I Walk the Line" Facebook page on which merchants can post details about special offers.

The strategy is in place to give merchants a running start on generating buzz before a $3 million construction project to repave Brookline Boulevard begins next spring.

More than 50 businesses will be affected.

"When the fences are up and businesses are behind them, we want to have a behind-the-barriers campaign" to give people incentive to continue to shop in the neighborhood, Mr. Mallory said.

With each grant, participants will design their own strategy to create a buzz, largely through social media. The URA will consult and guide each recipient group.

Thirty districts are eligible. Applicants will start the process by planning their activities with URA staff and can get up to $7,000 and additional technical assistance.

"Our neighborhood business districts are the heartbeat of our communities and this program will strengthen them," Mr. Ravenstahl said. "The Biz Buzz program gives small businesses and volunteers the tools to make an immediate impact on their districts, much like our 'Love Your Block' revitalization program, which increases community pride and beautifies neighborhood streets."

"When talking with groups, we have been stressing the '48x48x48' strategy to determine what a business district group can accomplish in 48 hours, 48 days and 48 weeks," said Josette Fitzgibbons, the URA's Biz Buzz project manager and Main Street coordinator. "We want these ideas to come from the community. We're encouraging the community to be creative and focus on what is unique and cool about their district."

While awarding and administering this year's grants, the URA's Biz Buzz team will seek state and city money to expand the program in 2013.

For more information on the Pittsburgh Biz Buzz Small Grant Program: URA.org.

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Diana Nelson Jones: djones@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1626. Read her blog City Walkabout at www.post-gazette.com/citywalk.


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