A few years ago, Cecilia Masiello found herself in a bind that locally minded shoppers encounter all the time. She was on the hunt for a specific product, but despite her best efforts to find it at a nearby store, she kept turning up empty handed. “After calling a bunch of shops, I finally found what I needed at a small independent grocer,” she says.
Then it hit her. “Why aren’t all of these local stores on one platform together so I can find what I need with just one search?”
Masiello, who worked in the startup world, kept returning to the idea. She eventually refined the concept into Shop the Blok, an all-in-one, location-based shopping app aimed at fusing the convenience of online shopping with the intimate experience you get from visiting a mom-and-pop shop. The app officially launched to the public in September with retail-rich Kingston as its pilot city.
In search of convenience, consumers often turn to online shopping and away from local shops. As Masiello says, “What’s more convenient than picking something up around the corner?” After several years of pandemic-fueled, carbon-heavy online shopping Masiello’s goal for the app is to nurture the independent retail scene that has long been a keystone of happy, healthy neighborhoods and reacquaint customers with the delights of doing business face-to-face. “Our goal is to increase foot traffic to stores and bring people back together,” she says. Eventually, she hopes that most brick-and-mortar retailers will join the platform.
Shop the Blok offers a buy online, pick up in-store model. How it works: The platform connects to multiple stores’ point-of-sale systems, allowing shoppers to conveniently search, browse, and buy products on the app with real-time accuracy. When you buy a product, the individual shop fulfills the order and prepares it for pickup. The app then notifies you when it’s time to hit the shopping district and collect your prepaid order.
“Other shopping platforms are all about convenience. While that’s a priority for us, we’re also creating experiences that go beyond the transaction,” says Masiello. “Each shop on our platform has its own page with details about the store and its owners so you can create a connection and really know who you’re supporting."
It’s a win-win scenario for shoppers and store owners alike. “It provides another avenue for devoted customers to keep shopping from their favorite places, just more conveniently,” says Masiello. “It also makes things from different stores more discoverable, both for people in and around Kingston and also for those who are visiting and need something in the area,” she adds.
In contrast to other startup tech solutions that launch in large cities, Masiello, whose mother lives in the area, believes that Kingston is the perfect first market for Shop the Blok. “There’s a really strong community of shops and shoppers here who are looking for something that can help them shop locally,” she says. “There’s a consciousness of the community here. People are aware of the importance of supporting Main Street. Shop the Blok will make it easier to make a habit of it.”
Ready to support the neighborhood? Download the free app at ShoptheBlok.com or scan the QR code and get a taste of the local wares currently available from Rough Draft Bar & Books, Clove & Creek, Exit Nineteen, Revolution Bicycles and more. Knowing exactly where to find what you need is useful. Preserving the vitality of our communities and the dreams of our entrepreneurial neighbors? That’s priceless.