(RNN) - With Occupy protests gripping the country, many local residents are calling for a boost to neighborhood-level economies by encouraging shoppers to buy from mom and pop stores this holiday season.
"You get much more back," said Reverend Billy Talen, of the Church of Stop Shopping. Talen has been preaching against consumerism and big box stores for more than a decade with the church, which has nearly 100 members. "You get the economy engaged, sharing stories."
Talen and his church have been prominent figures in the Occupy Wall Street movement, performing "exorcisms" at big retail stores and banks to highlight the negative effects of consumerism and encouraging shoppers to support mom and pop stores in their neighborhood to strengthen local economies.
More than just revitalizing small neighborhoods, Talen also sees other positives in bringing consumers to local shops.
"Consumerism is not a good way to relate to each other, it doesn't bring out our best selves," he said. "Local economies are usually always partly gift societies. We volunteer for each other, and small communities co-exist with small shops."
Shopping locally has a distinct impact on the livelihoods of people who live and work in a given neighborhood.
A 2007 study by David Neumark, an economist teaching at the University of California, Irvine, and his colleagues found that the arrival of big box stores hurts local economies. He found that when Wal-Mart stores come in to a community, there is a net loss of approximately 150 retail jobs, with each Wal-Mart employee taking the place of 1.4 employees that would have otherwise found jobs at local businesses.
They also found that total earnings for employees of Wal-Mart were 1.5 percent lower than earnings for comparable workers at local retail stores.
"Our livelihood is because they [locals] chose to shop here," said Dominique Camacho, owner of Brooklyn's Sustainable NYC. Camacho employees 15 in a business that closely monitors the environmental impact and footprint of the products they sell.
A 2002 report from Civic Economics, an economic analysis and strategic planning firm, explored the economic impact of local stores against big chains. The report found that for every $100 spent at a local store, about $45 stays in the local economy. That amount plummets to $13 when it's spent at a big box stores.
Camacho sees the effect of this kind of spending every day at her store.
"That's totally true," she said. "I live and work in this community … We want to support and have small independent stores so people can shop in their neighborhood."
Camacho is not the only one who relies on local business for her livelihood.
"For us, they're [local customers] the key," said Chris Schroeder, the marketing manager at San Francisco's Rickshaw Bagworks.
The small messenger bag store highlights its local roots through online videos and free warehouse tours.
"We're a small brand that gets spread through word of mouth," Schroeder said. "I think it's a great city in addition to trying to create jobs and create commerce."
The shop started after Mark Dwight, a former employee at competitor Timbuk2, decided to set up shop in the city's revitalized Dogpatch district. Rickshaw's small shop, which is at the front of the store's warehouse, was originally an alleyway for the factory.
"Now, it's a hustling, bustling place supported by locals," Schroeder said.
According to Schroeder, the small business has a big affect on the wellbeing of other local businesses through the employment of locals and the use of local resources to support manufacturing in the city.
"On a basic level, we provide 25 jobs - 15 in the production staff," Schroeder said. "We're creating as many jobs as possible. On a larger scale … we provide business to up to 15 local companies, stimulating the local economy and creating jobs."
For Schroeder, the importance of supporting neighborhood shops to ensure the livelihood of neighborhood folks is important, but the level of customer service available to consumers is also unique to the small business experience.
"There's nothing wrong with a big box, but there's just those five colors [of messenger bags] you can choose from," Schroeder said.
"When you give money to a smaller shop in your own community, you usually have people behind the counter who you connect with," Talen said. "You have a better Christmas, Kwanzaa or Hanukkah going on if you're engaging with neighbors."
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