Commerical rental space in Bradford is not cheap.
Barry Snaper, owner of the building at 121 Bridge St., knows first hand from his tenants how hard it can be sometimes just to stay afloat.
Snaper has worked with his tenants over the years, giving them breaks on rent when months are slow for business.
He has also allowed one tenant, Delfs' Martial Arts & Health Club, to put up large paper advertisements on the side of the building, to help generate revenue.
Last year, Snaper's son Mark, who helps him manage the property, thought it might be worthwhile to look into digital advertising,as a more modern, eye-catching approach to building a clientele.
"The way we look at it is, the landlord is only as good as their tenant. If the tenant's not doing well, the landlord's not doing well," said Mark. "I know from being a landlord here how hard it is for our tenants."
After much research and investment, the Snapers came to town council back in September with a proposal to install a digital billboard on the side of their building, facing the traffic coming into Bradford along Yonge/Bridge Street.
Council approved, and the new 10x15 digital screen was installed just this past week - replacing the existing paper signs that had originally draped the exposed side of the building.
Barry Snaper has owned the building since 1992, acquired under a power of sale. The building itself is over 100 years old, located adjacent to the train tracks. It was originally a grain house, for the farmers to load product onto the trains.
Mark says the building does require a lot of maintenance due to its age, and noted that it's on the cheaper end of rental rates in Bradford, compared to those in the west end of town.
"We know how the struggle is. There's no pedestrian traffic here, the stores we have are not ones that people would walk into," Mark said.
Manager, Office of Economic Development for the Town of Bradford West Gwillimbury, Michael Disano says the cost of commercial space in town varies anywhere from $18-40 a square foot, with the higher-end rates being charged in the newly-developed areas of town.
Mark noted that, bottom line, it is easier to work out ways to help the tenants in the building at the 121 Bridge St. - Delf’s Martial Arts & Health Club, Global Village Thrift Store, Rocks Home Decor and Furniture Store and a small, woodworking shop - than evict them, and have to find new ones.
Over the years, he and his father have developed close personal relationships with their tenants; to evict them would be like evicting family, Mark said.
"You can't be a landlord that takes every penny from your tenant because what kind of life are they (tenants) going to have?" he explained. "We like to be friends with the people that are our tenants."
He hopes to be able to keep advertising rates on the new digital sign low enough to help out small business owners who don't have a lot of room in their budget for marketing and advertising.
Mark would like to use the sign not only to help his tenants, but promote local organizations and clubs. He already has arrangements with The Bradford Lions and Bradford Air Cadet Squadron to share ads on the screen.
While researching digital signs and preparing his proposal for council last year, Mark noted that around 37,000 vehicles pass by the building on a daily basis, "And in the summer it goes up to 40,000 on weekends because of all the cottage goers."
With bumper-to-bumper rush hour traffic, he also suggested the sign could be a good way for the public to keep in the loop on town events and business.
The sign, which Mark says will end up costing him $4,000 a year in hydro costs alone, will be on 24 hours a day, with short ads appearing on screen.
Public reaction has been mixed. Some residents raised concerns over the "distraction" for motorists, and councillors worried about the impact of flashing sings. Mark noted that in his research, he has yet to come across any accident claim related to a digital sign, and he told council that none of the ads will be flashing.
The sign is now up on the building, just waiting for power hookup by the utilities company Alectra some time in the next week or so.
To learn more, check out the Snaper's website here.