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Occupy protests: Shop mom-and-pop on Black Friday

By Nigel Duara

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 23 2011 11:10 a.m. MST

A joke sign is seen at one of several entrances to the Occupy Portland camp in Portland, Ore., Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2011. Occupy protesters want shoppers to occupy something besides door-buster sales and crowded aisles of big-box stores on Black Friday.

Don Ryan, Associated Press

PORTLAND, Ore. — Occupy protesters want shoppers to occupy something besides door-buster sales and crowded mall parking lots on Black Friday.

Some don't want people to shop at all. Others just want to divert shoppers from big chains and giant shopping malls to local mom-and-pops. And while the actions don't appear coordinated, they have similar themes: supporting small businesses while criticizing the day's dedication to conspicuous consumption and the shopping frenzy that fuels big corporations.

Nearly each one promises some kind of surprise action on the day after Thanksgiving, the traditional start of the holiday shopping season.

In Seattle, protesters are carpooling to Wal-Mart stores to protest with other Occupy groups from around Washington state. Washington, D.C., is offering a "really, really free market," where people can donate items they don't want so others can go gift shopping for free.

Others plan to hit the mall, but not for shopping. The 75-person encampment in Boise, Idaho, will send "consumer zombies" to wander around in silent protest of what they view as unnecessary spending. In Chicago, protesters will serenade shoppers with revamped Christmas carols about buying local.

The Des Moines, Iowa, group plans flash mobs at three malls in an attempt to get people to think about what they're buying.

"We didn't want to guilt-trip people at a mall," said Occupy Des Moines organizer Ed Fallon. "We wanted to get at them in a playful, friendly way, to support local businesses."

Protesters say the movement shouldn't take away money and seasonal jobs from the working-class majority it purports to represent. The corporations, not the shoppers, are the focus of any protests, they say. But organizers do hope their actions drive people to reconsider shopping at national chains and direct their attention to small, locally owned stores.

That may not fly with small businesses wary of any association with the movement, which presents itself as pushing back against corporate power.

"If you ask, a lot of small business owners identify as business owners, not specifically small business," said Jean Card, spokeswoman for the National Federation of Independent Business. "I would like to believe there is a silver lining, but I don't picture a frustrated consumer that can't get into a box store turning around and going to a small business. I see that person going home."

Trying to shop exclusively local neglects economies of scale, job specialization and other benefits that big, multi-state corporations can bring, said George Mason University economist Russ Roberts.

"Don't punish yourself by not shopping where you can get the best deal; that's foolish," Roberts said.

Besides, small businesses aren't necessarily better employers in terms of wages, benefits, opportunities for advancement and other measures, said John Quinterno, principal at the public policy research firm South by North Strategies in Chapel Hill, N.C.

He calculates that small mom-and-pops, which he defines as businesses with fewer than 10 employees, account for nearly 80 percent of employer firms in the U.S., but only about 11 percent of the jobs.

"Sometimes we romanticize small business — and I say this as a small business owner myself — so that it skews some of our debates about economic and labor policy," Quinterno said. "It doesn't mean they aren't important. It just means that larger businesses tend to create a lot more value-added per job."

The protests are largely focused on shopping areas in affluent suburbs home to big chain stores. As with the entire movement, the protests bring with them a litany of causes. In addition to protests of big chains, causes include clothes made from animal fur, McDonald's, homelessness and, in Las Vegas, the low gambling taxes paid by casinos.

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