Most of us have seen enough Oakland Grown stickers around town to be cursorily familiar with the Buy Local movement. We avoid big-box stores, shop at locally owned and operated businesses when we can, and have some sense, at least abstractly, of how funneling our money into homegrown businesses can benefit local economic development.
But most of us aren't like Erin Kilmer-Neel, who's so passionate about Buy Local that she has essentially devoted her professional life to spreading its gospel. Kilmer-Neel says she originally came around to the concept while studying urban planning in graduate school several years ago. "I became obsessive about it when I came to recognize the economic multiplier effect of supporting local businesses," she said. "I really started thinking about how we as individuals are making decisions every day with our dollar, whether or not we know it." She ended up writing her thesis on the subject and, after graduation, moving to Oakland to launch a web site that would put a buy-local spin on the wedding registry business. "There's so much money in the wedding industry, but it all goes to Crate and Barrel and Macy's," Kilmer-Neel said. "I wanted to give people an opportunity to buy gifts from local businesses and artists." The idea evolved into Oakland Unwrapped, a general-purpose web store offering various goods made locally.
On top of that, as a program officer for the One PacificCoast Foundation and in partnership with One PacificCoast Bank and several other partners (including the Express), for the last five years she has hosted the Oakland Indie Awards, which aims to honor local independent businesses. "The idea behind it is to remind the community of the ways in which supporting locally owned independent businesses and artists supports and enriches the community," Kilmer-Neel said. She and the rest of the Indie Awards crew, comprising local business, arts, and community leaders, accept nominations for local businesses that are doing good in various ways — the Ripple Effect award, for example, goes to a local business or artist that's supporting other Oakland businesses by buying its supplies locally, while the Socially-Responsible Rock Star award, new this year, goes to a local entity that's engaged in community service and enrichment activities.
Despite the activist angle of her work, Kilmer-Neel promises that the awards — which go down Friday, May 13, at the Kaiser Center (300 Lakeside Drive, Oakland) — will be less a self-serious ceremony than a straight-up celebration of Oakland and its businesses. On hand will be a photo booth; crafts, clothing, and gifts for sale from vendors like Oakland Grown, Pro Arts, and Oakland Unwrapped; a candy bar; and food and drink — all local, of course, from vendors like Tamale Girl, Jin Lia, Trattoria Laurellinos, and more. Members of the Oakland Outlaws roller derby team will serve cupcakes on roller skates, and even the music will be totally local, with DJ Platurn spinning an Oakland-bands-only playlist. "We want to get people really excited and proud to be part of Oakland. What I hope people take away from this is that there is a ton of cool things in Oakland to spend their money on," Kilmer-Neel said. "When you see all the amazing, cool things people are doing here it makes it easy to get excited." 6-10 p.m., $10. OaklandIndieAwards.com