"Step Away From The Cash Registers"

Anthony Mason is a CBS News correspondent based in New York.
(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Bill Talen is a quintessential New York City street performer. He lived in Times Square during the 1990's when the city cleaned out a lot of the seamier elements to make way for the more tourist-friendly retail establishments.

While many New Yorkers applauded the effort, Talen saw it as a betrayal, a sell-out, almost a giveaway, to big entertainment and retail companies. The neighborhood in which he lived, and many of the friends and faces from Times Square were simply swept away. The only people left making noise were the sidewalk preachers. Inspired, he invented Reverend Billy, walked into the Disney Store one day and started preaching shoppers to "step away from the cash registers." He was immediately arrested. And a career was born.

Talen admits he is tilting at the proverbial windmill — that Americans are not going to simply "stop shopping." Retail is too big a part of the national economy and we do need to provide for our families. But he does think Americans can shop a little smarter — buying less, buying locally, avoiding the big box retailers and curbing their debt.

Politically, there are plenty of folks who see Talen as a radical, and he'd be the first to agree. But it's hard not to be impressed by the passion he has for his cause, and difficult to fault him at this time of year — as Reverend Billy preached, "Jesus was a child who would grow up to teach us peace … and that's a gift we could give each other without spending any money at all."

  • Anthony Mason

    CBS News senior business and economics correspondent; Co-host, "CBS This Morning: Saturday"