I'm definitely a "locals" kind of guy. I live in the city and love to support local businesses, whether it's a restaurant, a hardware store or car repair shop. That's why the whole concept behind Cogster really caught my attention. They were recently highlighted in the American Banker. Basically, they are a combination micro-lender and promoter of local businesses.
Local companies identify financial goals they want to achieve, say raising $10,000, and consumers "lend" them the money in return for gift certificates or discounts equal to the amount they contribute. People can donate as little as $10. What I like about this is the promotional aspect of it. Consumers have a real stake in seeing local businesses thrive and there's the social effect as well. If your neighbor is supporting the local merchant, shouldn't you think about it too? The service is currently available in several towns in and around the State College, PA area.