plaid tea cups -- plaid fridayThe headlines that read, "Is Plaid the New Black?" don't refer to the latest craze in fashion (though, coincidentally, plaid is the new black). Instead, it refers to a local-shopping movement started in Oakland, Calif. and taking root in communities across the nation.

While Black Friday is named for a rather boring financial consideration -- it's traditionally the day that retailers finally get "in the black," or turn profitable for the year -- I've always felt it had an ominous tone. We have Black Monday, and Black Alice, and other black things that seem to mean "bad." As colors (and patterns) go, it's surely not the least bit in the holiday spirit.Plaid is more like it. And as organizers of Oakland's official Plaid Friday movement describe it, it is "the fun and enjoyable alternative to the big box store "Black Friday," and is designed to promote both local and independently-owned businesses during the holidays."

In an interview on Boston Public Radio's Here and Now, founder Kerry Johnson said she and her neighbors came up with the idea last year "to celebrate the diversity and creativity of independent businesses." The website also indicates the group's long-term goal "to become a resource to make it easier for shoppers to find local businesses in every city across the nation," a tall order already being addressed in many localities with a more decentralized solution.

Indeed, many cities already celebrate something like a Plaid Friday -- Montpelier, Vt. even has a "Flannel Friday" -- including my own hometown's Shop Local Friday (celebrated also: Buy Nothing Day). Washington, D.C. has "Local First DC."

But Oakland's celebration has that all-important feature: an identifying visual symbol. Meant not just to be funky but also to represent "the breadth of what goes on in independent business; the melding of the colors and the weaving of the different items that are being sold and things that are happening," according to Johnson. As a bonus, most everyone already has something plaid in their closets. In fact, the Plaid Friday organizers asked their shoppers to wear the fabric to "make it more fun and identify people as those who came to support and be part of their community."

Johnson's multi-colored idea seems to have worked, prompting other supporters of local business to write editorials asking to adopt the practice as far away as Boston. While some community activists are making a big distinction between shopping at big box chains, and spending your money locally, Johnson wants to remind us that this is inclusive; after all, your local shop is never going to offer a plasma screen TV at 40% off. "Our goal is not to lure them away from [big box stores' mega-sales] but give them an alternative," she says.

As with Black Friday -- an iffy concept that has grown into an extremely successful retail strategy -- Plaid Friday has a quirky but seductive appeal. It's even been proven that dollars spent locally have a "multiplier effect," in other words, they have a bigger positive impact. I predict that next year many more cities and towns will adopt the idea, though it's hard to say whether it will significantly change the fortunes for small, independent businesses.

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