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Many local businesses are entering a crucial time of the year. The weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas can be a make-or-break period as far as many businesses’ bottom lines are concerned.

We aren’t going to debate here whether businesses should open on Thanksgiving or discuss what makes people get up at 3 in the morning to wait in line for bargains. We will talk about the local small business owners, who still are struggling in our community to keep their doors open and keep your neighbors employed, and how local residents can help them.

Today is known as Black Friday in the retail world referring to the period in which retailers are in the black, or turning a profit. The day after Black Friday is becoming known at Small Business Saturday. It is a great time to support local, independently owned businesses.

Most economists will tell you that small businesses are the economic engine of the U.S. economy. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, small businesses continue to employ more than half of all private-sector workers and generate 60 percent to 80 percent of new net jobs every year. With unemployment figures across our region near 30-year highs, those figures warrant more than a passing glance.

It’s not a stretch to say that as small businesses go, so go our banks, our housing markets and, most important, our confidence.

Not to be forgotten is that much of the money we spend in Charles County stays here and works for the development of our community. That means additional dollars for our schools, roads and all forms of public safety. Our libraries and parks benefit, as well. Sen. Ben Cardin reminded shoppers this week that for every $100 spent with locally owned, independent stores, $68 returns to the community through local taxes, payroll and other expenditures. “Buying local is one of the best things we can all do to help foster our economic recovery,” Cardin said. “… This Nov. 24, and every day of the year, we can a play a part in growing America’s economy by giving small businesses on Main Street a helping hand.”

It’s also important to remember that many local merchants are involved in just about every layer of our community. After all, has an online retailer ever bought tickets to your child’s school play or bought a half-page ad in a football program or yearbook? Contributed to your church suppers or donated to community projects? Kicked in a few dollars for your kid's travel softball team? Put up in their windows posters for your upcoming event? Our guess is probably not.

At a time when household spending continues to be a little tighter than usual, it’s critical that we all keep Charles County’s small business owners on our radar screen.

When possible, try to eat, shop and bank locally. It’s in our best interest.