By Molly Snyder Senior Writer Published Mar 11, 2012 at 11:11 AM

Small Shops United (SSU) is a new program that launched in January 2012.The mission of SSU is to create a bond between consumers and local merchants in order to strengthen local communities. There are eight partners in this venture and Milwaukee is the first market.

"Seven of the eight partners live, have lived, or grew up in the Milwaukee area," says Eric Tallmadge, one of the partners who lives in Wauwatosa and New York City.

To become a SSU member, people can get a card at any of the dozens of participating merchants. After obtaining the card, they go to the website to activate it. Until Dec 31, 2012, the cost is determined by the new member, and the choices are: free, $5, $10 and $20.

Members get a plastic card and present it to the cashier at participating stores. The merchant adds a percentage of the purchase back onto the card as a store credit toward a future purchase.

When the customer wants to redeem, he or she uses it like a gift card. The card is good at all of the participating shops, but credit is linked to each store it is used. Customers can only cash in the credit at the store where they earned it.

"This is a way for small business owners to help each other and the community, and we are providing them the tools to do it," says Tallmadge.

Local businesses in the program include Third Ward Jewelry, Alfa Flower Shop, Anodyne Coffee, Artasia, Arte Wine and Painting Studio, Balance Works, Brewed Cafe, Bridgetowne Custom Framing, Cafe Lulu, Cedar Creek Pottery, Dime A Dance, DiscMan, Fair Trade For All, Front Room Photography, Heinsight Leather, hot*pop, Juniper 61, Katie Gingrass Gallery, Leff's Lucky Town, Lela, McGinn's Sports Bar, Rochambo Coffee & Tea House, Transfer Pizzeria Cafe and Vendura Tea House & Cafe. For a full list of participating merchants go here.

Merchants who join the program pay a one-time $100 start-up fee and must have a compatible card-swipe terminal or Internet access at the point-of-sale. They pick the percentage of the sale they want to go back onto the card. Most pick 10 percent.

Plus, 10 percent of the initial subscription payment goes directly to the merchants.

"We want to encourage new merchants to join just as much as we want to encourage consumers. This is not a fly-by-night program, nor is it a battle-of-the-bargain-hunters daily deal site," says Tallmadge. "We are trying to make a real difference in the way people shop, and where they place their support."

The mobile applications are on the way, starting with the iPhone later this month. The Android will follow in April or May.

"Members will be able to do everything on the go, including checking rewards balances, finding local merchants, sharing through social media, and redeeming promotions right on their phone," says Tallmadge.

Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.

Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.