Five Local Businesses Captured in Virtual Tours

By Eva Potter

PlacesMobile, Inc. is in the business of putting towns and businesses on the map — a virtual map, that is — and this past Monday they visited Ellicottville to capture its winter charm for millions of Googles users.

Drew Hilker, co-owner of PlacesMobile Inc. and a Google Trusted Photographer, was in town this past Monday for the five-hour photo shoot to capture views of Ellicottville for Google Street View.

As a result, in a few weeks, you’ll be able to use Google Maps, a popular online mapping site that provides street maps, satellite images, Street View panoramas, travel routes and virtual interior tours, to check out a few of Ellicottville’s businesses and restaurants, inside and out.

Jim Hilker, Drew’s father and co-owner of PlacesMobile, said, “Since we are part of the Google Team, we have direct access into the (Google) Street View software. We put everything together. We produce all the 360s with the images, and once we get it all published, then it goes through quality review at Google headquarters. Once that’s passed, it takes about two weeks from the time of the photography work to when (the images) are live in Google Maps.”

The company then uses Google’s server and software to “stitch” the images together to create these virtual tours.

PlacesMobile, a family-owned company from Ithaca, N.Y., has created more than 1,200 virtual tours and virtual visitor guides across the Northeast and across the country. They have been on Google’s Trusted Photographers list since 2012, when the program went live.

“We create a full, comprehensive, interactive Google map that lists all the destination business on it. It’s an amazing program, because it’s all mobile driven, and we provide NFC (near field communication) stickers that go all over the place. So any visitors in the area, they just tap their smartphone to the NFC sticker and it opens up the visitor guide map right in their hand,” explained Jim. “They can find out where everything is, how to walk to it, how to drive to it, find out what the daily deals are, what the specials are with complete menus, watch virtual tours — it’s pretty high-tech stuff.”

This company has already created virtual 360-degree tours for Holiday Valley and Ellicottville Brewing Company. Now, The Barn, the Gin Mill, Watson’s Chocolates, Tangled Twigs and Dekdebrun Ski Shop will join Ellicottville’s list of virtual tours

“Every business had its own unique style,” said Drew. “That’s what I love about going to these small towns. Each place has its own personality, which makes them stand out.”

Although Drew chose not to capture any views of Ellicottville’s streets, because all the pretty white snow had already melted, he did take some high elevation 360s.”

Jim said, “They came out really nice. You can see the whole town with the ski slopes in the background.”

Jim said he plans to come back to work with more businesses soon.

“From what I was hearing, we were just a little bit too early for the season to really kick in. We’re thinking a February return might be a better time for business,” he said.

Google gives PlacesMobile the right to use their logo and provide direct access to their software, but does not compensate the company for their photography.

“If we get enough additional interest, we’ll come back sooner, because we are completely funded by businesses that participate,” said Hilker. “We try to make sure that we’re affordable and reasonable. The amount of marketing a business gets out of this is really phenomenal.”

If you are an interested business that would like to work with PlacesMobile, you can contact them at to receive more information.