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: Hard economic times have forced many small businesses to shut their doors, and those that remain open are joining together to gain strength from numbers and to encourage their communities to buy from independent locally-based businesses instead of chain stores this holiday season. Lowcountry Local First in Charleston, S.C., and the Shift Your Shopping initiative started by the American Independent Business Alliance and the Business Alliance for Local Living are just two community-based marketing movements that are asking shoppers to invest their dollars in small businesses, with supporters remarking that more money circulates locally through these shops than when it is spent at big-box stores. For more on this continue reading the following article from TheStreet.

This year, the Black Friday madness kicked in earlier than ever, with stores such as Kohl's(KSS) and Wal-Mart(WMT) opening their doors at midnight and encouraging sleep-deprived bargain-hunters to stock up on deals before dawn. Retailers are doing whatever they can to get Americans in the mood to spend.

It's hard for a small retail business to compete with the relentless advertising and price-cutting of the big-box stores. But in a growing movement across the country, smaller businesses have been joining together to market themselves as a group in their neighborhood or town. Not only does pooling their resources make a bigger impact; it creates a bond between participating businesses as they share advice and compare concerns.

The holiday season is a prime opportunity for such community-based initiatives. Americans are concerned about the economy and they're concerned about jobs. By encouraging residents to shop locally for gifts, business organizations are showing Americans how they can have a direct, positive effect on their town's economy.

Lowcountry Local First, in Charleston, S.C., is just one example of this movement, supporting local farms and small businesses. Its agricultural initiatives focus on building relationships between farmers and food buyers, while its "Buy Local" initiative markets small businesses to shoppers. The organization now has more than 450 members.

Since Lowcountry Local First started in 2007, people have become more aware about the economic impact of local shopping, executive director Jamee Haley says. "I still think there is work to be done so that folks understand that this is about more than shopping and retail," she says. "Yes, you're supporting your friends and neighbors, but it's also about economic recovery. We have to think about the bigger picture."

Community-based marketing initiatives can only succeed if they educate the public successfully about what it means to buy local. One statistic Lowcountry Local First uses is particularly striking: For every $100 spent at a locally owned business, $45 goes back into the community, versus $14 if that money was spent at a chain store.

"Residents have seen some of our wonderful businesses go under in the last three years, which I believe has brought to light that we do have a choice," Haleysays. "Every time we spend our dollars at a local business we are choosing to help that business succeed."

Independent stores and companies that join a community group also benefit from the business-to-business networking. "There's such a sense of loyalty generated between our members," Haley says. "One company, LimeLight Custom Signs, was just getting started four years ago when the owner got actively involved in Lowcountry Local First, and since then his business has blossomed, thanks to the relationships and referrals he developed. Collins Office Supply, a multigenerational business competing with national retailers, got involved with us just this year and has already seen an increase in sales, as other businesses shifted their purchasing to local."

This holiday season, the American Independent Business Alliance and the Business Alliance for Local Living are co-sponsoring a campaign called Shift Your Shopping, encouraging Americans to shop at smaller, independently owned stores rather than fighting the crowds at the mall. (You can find ideas and templates for marketing materials at ShiftYourShopping.org).

The Black Friday madness is all about low prices, and most small businesses simply can't compete with national chains when it comes to those special deals. But price is not always the be-all and end-all, especially when it comes to holiday shopping. Community-focused events that celebrate the season (while simultaneously promoting local businesses) can attract shoppers eager to slow down and enjoy holiday rituals such as caroling or visits with Santa.

Shoppers need to know that where they spend their money matters. It's up to business owners to help explain how money spent at an independent, locally-owned company trickles over to other businesses, and then into revenue that supports schools, park and libraries. And just as importantly, business owners must boost each other, creating a network of mutually supportive companies.

Think of it as celebrating the spirit of the holidays year-round.

This article was republished with permission from TheStreet.