Today is Black Friday, the unofficial start of the holiday buying season. Shoppers most likely wasted no time getting up from their Thanksgiving dinners to scour the stores for the best deals. And for those who want to avoid the long lines, Cyber Monday comes next week, the day when most online retailers offer their best deals.

While we shop the big box stores and places like Amazon.com as much as anyone, we think the idea of tomorrow's Small Business Saturday could be more important. Started in 2010 by American Express, Small Business Saturday puts the spotlight on mostly community shops that rarely get the attention they deserve. The hope is that shoppers will not only consider getting their holiday gifts from a neighborhood business but that those visits will turn them into customers throughout the year.

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There are more than 27 million small businesses in the United States, according to a 2015 Wall Street Journal report. And they account for between 56 and 63 percent of all the goods and services spent in the United States, otherwise known as the gross domestic product, or GDP. Clearly, the welfare of our economy depends on the success of small business, though we don't always think of it that way.

So, instead, we'll make the pitch for small business this way — think of them as unique destinations where you can find items that aren't necessarily available anywhere else. About 10 percent of small businesses are less than a year old and unfortunately about the same number of small businesses fail annually. Most would freely admit that starting a small business is a bit of a gamble to start. Faced with competitors that have large advertising budgets and the ability to buy in bulk, it's no wonder why some do. But we see how small businesses and stores fill a niche, as spots with individualized customer service often run by neighbors who are deeply rooted into the community. And with small businesses, they nearly always stay local, too.

Not only that, but many small businesses are right on the main streets of small towns, in places like Westminster, Taneytown or Sykesville. What makes that even more special is that you can make a day of it, stroll these towns and shop, perhaps getting a meal at one of the restaurants that likely also qualify as a small business. As an added treat, the Town of Westminster will be hosting its annual Miracle on Main Street this Saturday, starting with a Jingle Bell Run at 4:55 p.m., with the Holiday Electric Parade at 5 p.m., which will be followed by the annual Christmas tree lighting and the arrival of Santa Claus.

This holiday shopping season, we're not saying to ignore big retailers, online or not, but we are encouraging you to visit small businesses as part of your travels. Their success is critical to the well-being of our communities.

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