OAKLAND -- This holiday season, the message from Mayor Jean Quan's office on down to merchants and shoppers is coming across loud and clear -- shop local and put your money where your home is.

What began as a grassroots movement has gained momentum verging toward mainstream. Oaklanders are embracing the campaign to use their consumer power.

Two Oakland companies are helping to create a win-win situation for merchants and shoppers alike; Oakland Sustainable Business Alliance has introduced the Oakland Grown Gift Card and Marqeta recently launched its Explore Oakland card, each offering bonuses for the consumer. Combined with the city's enticement of free Saturday parking, all three seem to be paving the way for a prosperous Oakland holiday season.

Erin Kilmer Neel, director of Oakland Sustainable Business Alliance, described the gift card as a way to support locally owned, independent businesses.

"It's all about shopping local," she said. "These are the businesses that keep the most money in the community overall."

In fact, studies have shown that buying in independent stores circulates two-to-four times more revenue back into the local economy than buying at chains, since merchants tend to shop locally themselves for goods and services, donate to local charities and hire locally.

As the most popular, top-requested holiday gift item for the past four years, the gift card seemed a perfect attention-grabber. The card is powered by Hope Solutions Merchant Services, another Oakland-based company, and has the flexibility of being used at growing number of businesses throughout Oakland's neighborhoods, including restaurants, salons, and a variety of stores offering everything from bikes and books to house wares, electronics and clothing.

Each purchase of $5 or more earns the card holder five reward points known as OakShares.

"We did this very consciously because we have such a wide variety of incomes in the Oakland population," Kilmer Neel said. "We thought we could create some equity in the OakShare world by giving a flat number of OakShares every time we shop."

The alliance is pleased with the response by merchants and card buyers and is looking for volume to create critical mass and traction and get more people on board.

"It's important to know that this alliance is a nonprofit, that we're all behind it and that at the end of the day this is about economic development," Kilmer Neel said.

At Marqeta, the Explore Oakland card was the company's way to follow Mayor Quan's suggestion that Oaklanders try to keep 25 percent of their spending in Oakland. Marqeta chose to focus their tech entrepreneurship on restaurants. Launched by Jason Gardner and Omri Dahan, the loyalty debit card gives a 25 percent cash bonus when used at any of its 30 participating Oakland restaurants.

"We're always trying to figure out how do we advance the city and build off the great assets that are here," Dahan said. "With the card, the merchants can count on your loyalty and business and consumers get a good return on their money and a reward for committing their dollars to these restaurants."

The Explore Oakland card can also be used to make a donation to support an Oakland charity called Great Oakland Public Schools with each consumer contribution being matched by Marqeta and the restaurant.

Again, response has been positive and new restaurants are signing on weekly.

"People love the idea that Oakland makes your money worth more," Dahan said. "We're hoping that the card will make a significant impact. Oakland is building a lot of momentum on a number of different fronts and this is a great way for Oaklanders to really feel a part of what's going on."

Adding even more to consumers' pocketbooks is Oakland's announcement of free holiday parking throughout December at standard meters, multi-space parking kiosks, city-owned lots equipped with meters and city-owned garages in selected commercial areas.

Armed with an Oakland Grown gift card that encourages shopping, a Marqeta Explore Oakland card to indulge gourmet fantasies and time to enjoy both, Oakland has all its elves in place to make this a generous holiday season.

FYI
Oakland Grown Gift Card: www.oaklandgrown.org/giftcards, 510-516-0653.
Marqeta Explore Oakland card: www.marqeta.com/exploreoakland, 888-462-7738.
Oakland Free 2012 Holiday Parking: www2.oaklandnet.com/OAK038548.