Akron small businesses will be taking part in a first-of-its-kind initiative with eBay.

The 12-month pilot program, called Retail Revival, was announced Friday morning by Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan and eBay Inc. President and CEO Devin Wenig.

Akron is the first U.S. city selected by eBay to take part in Retail Revival.

“We decided Akron was the place to try something really new,” said Wenig, eBay CEO since 2015.

As many as 40 brick-and-mortar businesses — primarily from Akron plus some from nearby Warren — likely will participate, according to the announcement inside the new Northside Marketplace off Furnace Street.

The local businesses will get exclusive support and resources, including training, to market their products and services on eBay. Discussions between Akron and eBay began about six months ago.

Horrigan called the Retail Revival program a “transformational new partnership” between the city and the $9 billion San Jose, Calif., e-commerce and online auction company.

“A partnership that will help make Akron a leader in the digital economy,” Horrigan said. “The program exists to help small local businesses and the broader community harness the power of technology and participate in the global marketplace.”

The city will work with eBay to identify businesses to participate in the program, Horrigan said. “It’s time we share our exceptional goods and customer service with the rest of the world.”

Warren Mayor Doug Franklin said some people wrongly associate Northeast Ohio with the stigma of being the “Rust Belt.”

“That’s a very old perception. And that’s very definitely not who we are now,” he said. “And eBay has validated that.”

Plenty of potential

The Retail Revival initiative has regional and even statewide potential, Horrigan said.

Some Akron small business owners said they found out just recently that they were selected to be part of the experiment. The owners said they still needed to learn more on how the program will work. Retail Revival may formally kick off in March.

“One of the reasons we are here is because we feel wanted,” Wenig said. “We feel wanted by the small businesses. ... We feel wanted by two very progressive local governments that say it’s time for change and we can revitalize our small business engine. And the entire U.S. economy is in a period of transition. We’re moving to a digital economy.”

While this was his first time in Akron, Wenig said, eBay has been in Ohio for nearly all 21 years of the company’s existence. Last year Ohio businesses did a billion dollars in sales on eBay, Wenig said.

“Summit County, almost $100 million,” he said. “There is a quiet economy that you may not even know about that is thriving on digital platforms like our own.”

Retail Revival is about helping small businesses grow and thrive in the digital economy and get on the global “digital highway,” Wenig said. The goal is not to just help Akron businesses grow locally but also help them grow around the world.

“We love entrepreneurs. We’re builders,” Wenig said. “And the sense I get is, Akron is a building town. That’s why we’re here. ... Akron’s a building city, so let’s build something together.”

EBay will know the program is a success if the Akron retailers increase sales and hire more staff at the end of 12 months, Wenig said. The pilot program will be limited to a maximum of 50 businesses.

Akron small business owners who will be part of this initial Retail Revival program said they look forward to it.

“It’s still too soon to figure out exactly how it is going to work,” said Pete Smakula, owner of Electric Pete’s E-bikes at 331 S. Main St. He hopes to increase business and get more exposure.

Frank Miller III and Preston Clark, partners in 7th Floor Clothing, likewise hope the eBay program will increase sales and exposure. The small clothing company has already been highlighted by Akron native and NBA superstar LeBron James.

Filling the gap

Dominic Falcione, owner of Krunchworks, a custom furnishings and fixtures business, said because Retail Revival is about e-commerce, the online sales will help him fill a gap in his one-person shop in Akron.

John Buntin Jr., owner of Kenmore Komics & Games, also praised the initiative.

“This could actually work,” he said. While Buntin said he has sold on eBay “off and on” for about 20 years, he said the Retail Revival program appears to be more comprehensive. If the program helps local businesses such as his, then the city and county will also be participating in the success, Buntin said. “We’ll all grow and prosper.

Reporter Jim Mackinnon can be reached at 330-996-3544 or jmackinnon@thebeaconjournal.com.