Even if you plan on traveling for the holidays this year, a New Orleans neighborhood advocacy group wants to make sure your holiday spending stays closer to home – and it’s providing tools to help make sure your gifts not only delight their recipients but benefit their local purveyors.

Through its Stay Local program, the nonprofit Urban Conservancy is asking people to make an on-line pledge that at least 25 percent of their holiday spending will be done at locally-owned businesses.

NEWS BEAT: Staying–and Spending–LocalThe campaign is based around the Web sitewww.staylocal.org, which provides a free directory of locally-owned businesses of all sizes; ways for consumers and other businesses to search for them by name, product, service or neighborhood; and other resources.

The site is essentially a collective marketing effort, says program coordinator Dana Eness, based on the equation that when local consumers patronize local businesses, more of their money stays within the community where it can do the most good for everyone in that community.

“We’re providing it as a community service. Any locally-owned business can join for free,” says Eness.

The directory has been growing steadily since it was launched earlier this year and its listings already run the gamut from retail shops and restaurants to accounting firms, auto repair shops and artists.

“We’re not talking about small or big [businesses], we’re talking about local businesses,” says Geoff Coats, a local designer and founder of the Urban Conservancy. “This is designed for people who consciously want the dollars they spend to go to their neighbors.”

The nonprofit Urban Conservancy was formed in 2001 in response to the growing number of big box-style corporate retailers arriving in New Orleans. The group believes that supporting local businesses and building ways for them to sustain themselves is akin to supporting New Orleans’ unique culture.

The support comes at a time when many of the area’s small businesses are reeling from long reach of Hurricane Katrina. The city estimates that some 95 percent of the businesses in New Orleans before Katrina employed fewer than 100 people, but a recent study by Louisiana State University reported that more than half of those small businesses have not reopened since the storm.

“We were planning this for a while, in a somewhat different form with memberships but now [after the storm] we decided to open it to anyone since there is a real urgency for us to get this out there and build a critical mass,” says Eness. “Local businesses are really part of what makes New Orleans special, and I think that was driven home right after the storm when we realized some places we loved could be gone, that we might have gone there for the last time.” – Ian McNulty