City, College Launch App to Promote Oberlin

Erin Amlicke

With a fast-approaching launch date of Sept. 28, the Oberlin App — a collaborative effort between the Oberlin Business Partnership, the City of Oberlin and the College — will soon be available for all smart phones. Unlike most familiar applications, this app does not cater to a small niche of users, but rather attempts to reach the entire community of Oberlin.

The development took a great deal of planning and research. As Zac Sebo, co-founder of Citizen Sync, the company that developed the app, said that the app puts all things Oberlin onto “one official platform.” The software features six different resource categories, including City Information, Oberlin College, Visitor Information, Business Directory, Local Events and Local Offers.

Each button leads to various sub-categorical pages that range from informative summaries of local laws and policy to company “splash” pages, which Sebo described as profiles for local businesses. Through the profiles, users can access an image gallery, a brief description of the business and contact information.

According to Janet Haar, the executive director of the Oberlin Business Partnership, each Oberlin business automatically receives a “splash” page without charge, which will provide exposure for companies who do not have an established presence online.

Even so, the marketing capabilities of the app expand beyond the current local business community. According to Oberlin Housing and Economic Development Officer, Carrie Handy, Oberlin’s “untapped resources,” –– namely the art museum, concert series and lectures — are still “the best kept secret[s] of Lorain County.”

Handy said she hopes the app will work to encourage new businesses t take root in the town. “We have a lot of available land, and in the future we hope that this can become a destination for both manufacturers and other business.”

This outlet for local businesses is particularly appealing to Haar, who considers the platform both user- and owner-friendly. The Oberlin Business Partnership — comprised of Oberlin’s working Chamber of Commerce, a National Main Street organization and the Lorain County Visitor’s Bureau —  has long been dedicated to the transfer of information from business to consumer.

The new application simplifies this exchange by directing consumers to business websites, advertisements and coupons. Agencies even have the opportunity to secure special advertisements for additional purchase.

“Logically,” Harr said, “getting something in the electronic field and social media is where we need to go.”

While the developers of the app were quick to voice their excitement, the Oberlin business community was more tentative, largely due to a lack of communication between the developers and business owners. Ruth Aschaffenburg, the owner of Bead Paradise II, cited the shop’s Facebook page as one of her most important advertising tactics. A mobile platform that gives consumers the ability to “click-through” to her website will only increase her site’s traffic.

However, other major downtown businesses, such as Ginko Gallery & Studio and Ben Franklin, were surprised to hear that such technology was implemented. Ginko Gallery owner Liv Burgess saw a potential gain for her consumers, who often travel to Oberlin for her business, but are not sure where else to go once they’ve arrived.

“I think that an app that puts all of that information in one place makes a lot of sense.”

On the contrary, Ben Franklin owner Krista Long said that she hasn’t encountered many customers who would need further directions or store information. Nevertheless, she was clear that more publicity for the shop is undoubtedly better. As Long noted, “It’ll be interesting to see how it materializes.”

According to Sebo, although the City of Oberlin and the Oberlin Business Partnership have been the largest and most consistent contributors to the app, the College has played a major financial and architectural role in its development. Since the college helped fund the app, it has its own featured page on the initial landing site, leading to four school-centric categories: College Announcements, College Events, Student Life and Visitor Information. These pages further branch off to include links that describe various elements of campus life and events, such as meal plan arrangements, Oberlin slang and links to student groups.

As Haar explained, some businesses have been “really excited about it, because they understand it; [whereas others] aren’t too sure about it because they’re not sure about what we’re doing.” To her, the tentative attitude of some store owners can easily be changed by assuring them that the progressive technology will not tarnish Oberlin’s historical past.

“We don’t want to change the past,” said Haar, “but we want to make sure that we are there for the future.”