A hyper-local app that lets visitors to Capitol Hill know where the locals go has partnered with Eastern Market Main Street (EMMS) to feature businesses in the neighborhood.
City Walker is a tourism app that offers tourists and residents a new way to experience cities using the local community as the driver behind search results. Locals can download the app to promote businesses they love and want to succeed and also to get turned on to new businesses. That info is used to make suggestions to tourists and other visitors using the City Walker app.
The custom experience highlights EMMS businesses when the app is launched within the specific, geo-fenced area, bounded by Second and Ninth Streets SE, from East Capitol Street to Pennsylvania Ave SE. It is also designed to encourage tourists who are visiting the nearby Capitol to visit the wealth of dining and shopping that is only a few blocks away.
A Local in Your Pocket
City Walker Co-creator Hubert Schoemaker said the idea for the app came to him and his wife and partner, Jenni, while on the National Mall. A family of tourists asked them where they could take their kids to get something to eat.
“On the walk home we were saying, it would be nice to always have a local with you, to say, tell you where it’s a good idea to go with two kids,” he said. Surprised to find that it didn’t already exist, they decided to build one: an app that is like having a local in your pocket.
EMMS Executive Director Madeleine Odendahl said that the Main Streets Program had been looking for a way to take their digital promotion to the next level, but creating an app was a reach for the three-year-old organization. She said EMMS liked the concept and liked that City Walker is a Capitol Hill business.
“We saw an opportunity to further both our passions –to promote the businesses in this area,” she said.
Equal Footing for Local Business
Schoemaker said the EMMS mission is very well aligned with what City Walker is trying to do. “We want to help building community between locals and businesses,” he said. “It helps a small business compete with a Starbucks, placing them on equal footing without a role for marketing dollars.”
That’s because the first page of reviews on Yelp often features several paid ads. Advertising doesn’t affect recommendations for local businesses in the City Walker program, which uses information and ratings from local users to rank and recommend businesses to visitors.
“We’re trying to give the authentic local experience to people,” Schoemaker said. “We amplify the local message, connect people to businesses, and get out of the way.”
Users select a category such as ‘feed me,’ ‘grab a coffee,’ ‘need a drink,’ and ‘culture’ and the app returns recommendations within a 15-minute walk, using an algorithm that considers popularity with the locals, reviews, opening hours, and life patterns.
Alternatively, the app can function like a decisive local who is really responsive to text messages. Suppose you really need a coffee. Select the coffee icon under ‘The Best of Washington’ and the app will choose from the top twenty shops and suggest just one for you.
Recently, City Walker added an additional function to the app that would allow businesses to provide offers to clients who use the app. After businesses have claimed their profile, they can add images and information, respond to comments, and offer incentives to locals who stop in. For example, a coffee shop could offer a free coffee to locals who visit three times a month, Schoemaker said. The business makes the decision about if and what offer is made.
Schoemaker said the partnership is intended to focus spending on the Hill –both by tourists and by locals. He said he’s interested in partnering with more Main Street Programs, and especially with the Business Improvement Districts (BID).
With their mandate to enhance the economic vitality of neighborhoods, Schoemaker said partnerships between the BID and City Walker make a lot of sense. After all, in a time when online shopping dominates the economy, Schoemaker and City Walker encourage people to spend where they live.
“Go for a walk, get a coffee, and then pick something up at Hill’s Kitchen,” he said. “Then go back.”
An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of City Walker Co-Founder Huber Schoemaker. The Hill Rag regrets the error.