TORONTO -- More help is on the way for Canadian small brick-and-mortar businesses who are struggling to make ends meet as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Wednesday, Google Canada announced it is committing $1 million to help more small business owners get online through Digital Main Street’s ShopHERE program, by providing free website support and marketing tools to increase their digital presence to sell goods and services.

The program, created by the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas (TABIA), in partnership with Google and Shopify, has plans to get 50,000 businesses across Canada online by the end of the year.

Home-based businesses, as well as those with a commercial location, are eligible to participate, so long as they are registered and employ fewer than 10 employees (fewer than 25 employees for a restaurant or bar) and not be part of a corporate chain or franchise.

Artists in participating municipalities are also included in the program.

The investment means businesses will get paired up with volunteer web developers and marketers who will build their website for free.

Google said the pledge will also help small businesses receive the digital skills training necessary to run a small business online, adding that the digital economy is limited without the right training.

“Google’s one million dollar investment will enable Digital Main Street to expand the program to municipalities across the country, offering more businesses and artists the opportunity to build a digital presence and minimize the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the company said in a news release.

And that economic impact is being felt by many businesses in the city. In fact, a study released last month by the Broadview-Danforth Business Improvement Area (BIA), found that nearly two-thirds of the 561 small businesses surveyed said they would have to close down for good within three months as they struggle to keep up with rent and other bills during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Originally launched as a city-wide initiative earlier this month, the ShopHERE program was announced by Toronto Mayor John Tory on May 11 with the goal of signing up up 3,000 independent businesses and artists in the city.

“We are committed to doing everything we can to help our main street small businesses get through this crisis,” Tory said at the time.

Since then, more than 1,000 businesses have signed up on the platform to expand their digital presence, including Plentea, a Toronto tea bar that was forced to close up its brick and mortar shop as a result of the novel coronavirus.

“Three months of terrible sales can do a number on your finances,” Plentea co-Founder Tariq Al Barwani told CTV news Toronto on Wednesday.

The business partners then made the difficult announcement that Plentea would be closing on May 30. But since then, Al Barwani said customers kept reaching out to him on Instagram to buy his products.

“People are demanding more and more and it was very apparent that we needed a better solution.”

So the owners signed up with Digital Main Street’s ShopHERE program and have been active for about a week.

“It was great because you actually have a consultant at your fingers tips to fine tune your website. From sign up to actually having a site up and pumping I’d say it took about a week.”

Plentea co-founders

And while he admits the decision to close the retail store is unfortunate, Al Barwani says he feels confident about Plentea’s new digital plan.

“It’s a positive start in the right direction. Going online is definitely the way of the future.”

Small businesses outside of Toronto can still register for the program here and Digital Main Street will notify you when the program becomes available in your municipality.