Black Friday is a big day for retailers, but I don't think it's nearly as important as Small Business Saturday.
That's because small business is the heart and soul of our economy.
Small Business Saturday is the Saturday following Thanksgiving, and consumers are encouraged to spend their shopping dollars at smaller, independently owned businesses right in their backyards. Small Business Saturday is about Main Street, not Wall Street. It's about the entrepreneurs and families who have put everything into the stores that offer what the chains and e-commerce companies don't — something different, something special, from handcrafted gifts to genuinely friendly and personal service.
It's also about supporting the local economy. Chain stores are owned by corporations based someplace else; small businesses usually are owned by people who live in the community. When you shop at a small business, you're supporting your hometown, your neighborhood and your neighbors.
The media tends to focus on the Fortune 500 brands everyone knows, but small businesses represent 99 percent of U.S. employers, and they employ about half of the nation's private-sector workforce, according to the latest figures from the federal government.
We can't have a strong economy unless our small businesses are doing well — and right now they're not doing well. They're hurting.
According to the National Federation of Independent Business' latest Small-Business Optimism Index, the outlook among small-business owners is still wary. The survey, conducted before the presidential election, found that weak sales are still the No. 1 issue facing small-business owners.
The truth is that small businesses aren't going to hire new employees if they're worried about keeping the lights on. They aren't going to expand or add locations if they're worried about the torrent of new regulations coming out of Washington or a healthcare package that's going to jack up costs without doing much to increase competition and improve access to affordable coverage.
Small Business Saturday is a good opportunity for people to support the stores and companies that mean so much to America's economic well-being.
According to the Small Business Saturday Insights Survey, released Nov. 8 by NFIB and American Express, 67 percent of independent merchants plan to offer special discounts today. Many of these also will be offering goods that you just can't find anywhere else — personally crafted goods and one-of-a-kind gifts.
Small businesses also often offer a level of service that you can't find anywhere else. When you shop at a small business, there's a good chance you'll be dealing directly with the owner, or someone they've hand-picked to represent their store. They genuinely care about their business and know that your word of mouth can help bring more customers through their doors.
Spending your shopping dollars locally also can provide a big boost to the local economy. Money spent in the community tends to stay in the community rather than leaving the state to end up in the bottom line of a huge corporation.
Small-business owners care about their communities, and many are in business to help bring value to the towns they love. They usually have a vested interest in the community, in its schools, in the quality of life. It's no accident that small-business owners are among the most generous supporters of civic groups, local charities, youth sports, schools and virtually every other form of community activity.
That's why I urge you to support Small Business Saturday and to shop at small, independent businesses other days of the year, too.