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It’s important to shop local

Some of the traditional markers that have offered a clear sign that the holiday shopping season has started are quickly fading.

It wasn’t that long ago that Black Friday — the day after Thanksgiving — was the primary beacon that showed us it was time to get serious about our holiday purchases.

That has changed a lot in recent times, as more stores and shopping centers started to open Thanksgiving night with can’t-miss deals. The trend has continued, with some merchants having offered what they have called Black Friday deals since the first part of November.

Added to that mix is Cyber Monday, which falls on the Monday after Thanksgiving, and the other traditional busy shopping days including the last Saturday before Dec. 25 and, of course, Christmas Eve.

This year is a little different from the past few years because there are six fewer shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas than there were last year. It’s too early to know what it will all mean, but it’s likely we will be spending a lot more on Christmas than we did last year.

That’s according to the National Retail Federation, which expects sales to total between $727.9 billion and $730.7 billion, an increase of between 3.8 percent and 4.2 percent.

No matter how much money you will spend this holiday season, it’s important to remember that where you make your purchases and who you buy from are important, too.

“At Christmastime, it’s important to ask that people shop local,” said Tricia Maple-Damewood, president of the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce. “When you shop at local businesses, you support everyone who lives here all year round.”

And that’s where one of the newest holiday markers comes in. It’s Small Business Saturday, which falls at the end of this week. It was started 10 years ago by American Express as a way to encourage people to shop small, especially during the holiday season.

Since then, it has grown as more and more communities and businesses have started to highlight the importance of keeping money in their local economies. That’s important, because as the credit card giant reminds us, for every dollar spent at a small business, about 67 cents remains in the local economy.

That makes an impact.

“We need to support our local businesses,” said Brenda Mull, president of the Weirton Area Chamber of Commerce. “If we support them, they are successful. And if they are successful, it will encourage more local places to shop to open, and it means that more tax money stays here. It’s a win-win.”

The numbers are worth noting: According to the Small Business Administration, small businesses account for 99.7 percent of all business in the U.S., and they were behind 64 percent of the new jobs created in the United States between 1993 and 2011.

“Our chamber supports our local businesses,” said Debbie Puskarich, president of the Follansbee Chamber of Commerce. “People should shop local because it provides for a stronger economy. If you’re shopping locally, it helps the community, it helps to keep our businesses here.”

Another important factor, as the local chamber presidents remind, is that small, locally owned businesses are more likely to make donations to nonprofits and other organizations.

“Our local businesses support our schools, our sports teams and churches, and they help with other charitable events,” Maple-Damewood explained. “When you’re having a spaghetti dinner to raise money, you are not going to go out of town and ask for a donation.”

That local touch is something residents should not take for granted.

“When we shop in local shops, it just feels more personal,” Puskarich said. “They make shopping fun. It can be a friendlier atmosphere, and the input from the businesses can make the shopping experience a lot more pleasant. When I’m looking for a unique gift, those stores always have something that’s special, whether it’s a set of gloves or jewelry or anything.”

“We have just so many options,” Mull said. “There have been new restaurants opening, and there are many other new businesses that feature fashion, jewelry and other items.”

Maple-Damewood and the Jefferson County Chamber will be promoting their “Eat, Drink and Be Local” campaign Saturday with displays set up between 9 a.m. and noon at M&M Hardware, A&B Pharmacy and Something Special by Sheila. Chamber volunteers at those locations will be providing fresh coffee as well as shopping bags, coupons for deals at local businesses, stickers and more.

The morning is designed to offer another reminder that even though there are options all around us when it comes to shopping, we should think of our towns first.

“It’s unrealistic to say that people won’t go to Robinson to shop and that our local merchants will have everything on everyone’s list,” Maple-Damewood said. “But, sometimes, people don’t realize all of the things our local businesses have to offer.”

That’s something to think about not just on Black Friday or Small Business Saturday, but on every day of the year.

(Gallabrese, a resident of Steubenville, is executive editor of the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times.)

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