Local has been shadowed by the "New" Google Directory style listings for 8-12 months it seems. Ever since they started showing that 7-pack of local listings.
+1 on Google being nothing more than a phone book of local listings for certain terms... Agree. Now to find the best way to play along!
Also - If I recall, Google had a "Tags" program or something like that where they were charging $25/month for local places featured placement.