Community Thanksgiving: America Unchained!

On November 18, the Saturday before Thanksgiving, communities around the country will celebrate America Unchained! -- a national event sponsored by the American Independent Business Alliance (AMIBA), that urges communities to "unchain themselves" and to shop only at locally owned independent businesses for the day. AMIBA is inviting all independent retailers, independent business alliances, and independent trade associations to join in the third annual event.

"We timed America Unchained! deliberately and strategically," said Jennifer Rockne, AMIBA director. "Our goal is to get the public's attention before the onset of the annual holiday shopping frenzy -- before their attention is colonized by events and the advertising barrage." America Unchained! focuses on community economics by helping citizens recognize the fiscal benefit of shopping at local independent businesses -- and to think about the impact of where they choose to spend their dollars, not only for the upcoming holiday season, but every day.

"The media love to use 'Black Friday' to depict the nature of holiday shopping, but their chosen image is of shoppers ... exiting chain stores with armloads. It's a soulless, superficial portrayal," said Rockne. "America Unchained! primarily is a media event that carries a strong educational message about community economics and provides a way to remind people that independent businesses are part of the holiday shopping experience -- and a better one all around.... We'd like to shift more holiday spending to independent businesses, but we also want to restore some humanity and meaning to the act of giving a gift."

As in previous years, a key focus of the America Unchained! event is the findings of Civic Economics' Andersonville Study and "Economic Impact Analysis -- A Case Study: Local Merchants vs. Chain Retailers", both of which clearly illustrate that local retailers return more economic value to the community than do chain retailers.

"We know, through economic impact studies such as the Austin Independent Business Alliance's, Andersonville and Mid-Coast Maine, that communities are huge beneficiaries when people shop locally owned," Rockne continued, "so focusing on community economics is a useful bridge for this campaign that gives the act of gift-giving added meaning."

America Unchained! evolved out of a 2003 event, Austin Unchained, which was held by the Austin Independent Business Alliance, an AMIBA affiliate headed by Steve Bercu of BookPeople. Austin alliance members organized the event to demonstrate that even one day of shopping at locally owned businesses would have a significant economic impact on the city.

In conjunction with the event, the Austin Independent Business Alliance commissioned "An Analysis of the Potential Economic Impact of Austin Unchained," a study conducted by Civics Economics that indicated its expectations were correct. "The economic impact of a successful Austin Unchained event will be measured in the millions of dollars," the report said. "This is the equivalent of dozens of new jobs in our community from a single day of changed consumer behavior."

"The Austin Independent Business Alliance generated substantial local media exposure to drum up community support and participation," Rockne said. "Combined with their posters, fliers, t-shirts, the word got out and the community joined in to inject millions into Austin's economy." AMIBA hopes that its national campaign will multiply that effect with each participating community and continue to spread the collective message.

"The media love this event because it's edgy, and its timeliness is perfect, both for the pertinence of the local versus chain issue and for its proximity to the holiday shopping season," Rockne explained.

AMIBA provides templates for posters, a logo, button designs, press releases, and more for local customization. All of the materials will soon be available for download from the AMIBA website, AIMBA also encourages participants to develop their own organizational items. -- David Grogan, Bookselling This Week