Small businesses want to move forward by putting the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath in the rearview mirror. There is no question that recovery has been slow and plagued by challenges such as supply chain disruptions, inflation, and labor shortages. However, there are ways for everyone in Massachusetts to ensure our downtowns and Main Streets remain vibrant and thriving.

A solid first step is by shopping locally on Small Business Saturday.

Unlike big box stores, small businesses are owned and operated by friends and neighbors. They create jobs, support our schools, and donate to local charities. They kept customers and employees safe during the pandemic, and they are trying hard to hold prices in check despite the highest rate of inflation this country has seen since the early ‘80s.

Small Business Saturday is the Saturday after Thanksgiving. It is a day when shoppers and diners are encouraged to support the local businesses that serve as the backbone of their communities throughout the year.

It began in 2010 as a way to help our mom-and-pop shops get back on their feet after the Great Recession. It’s since become one of the busiest shopping days of the year. In 2021, Americans spent a record $23.3 billion nationwide on Small Business Saturday, according to American Express and the National Federation of Independent Business.

Small Business Saturday is much different than Black Friday with its hectic crowds, cold waits in long lines, and battles over limited products. Small Business Saturday offers a customer-friendly alternative where consumers not only find great deals and service, but also learn just how important independent shops and restaurants are to the local economy and their communities.

After all, according to the latest figures from the U.S. Small Business Administration, small businesses account for 98.8% of all (state) businesses.

When we shop at locally owned stores or eat at the family-run restaurant downtown, we help to keep our neighborhoods healthy. Sixty-seven cents of every dollar spent at a small business stays in the community, according to another American Express and NFIB survey. Additionally, every dollar spent at a small business creates an additional 50 cents in local business activity as employers and their employees shop at other local businesses.

We cannot ignore that many small business owners are still struggling with new challenges following the pandemic. According to a recent NFIB study, finding workers remains the top concern for employers, with 46% reporting job openings they still cannot fill. More unwelcome news, NFIB’s small business optimism index remains below the 48-year average thanks to inflation, supply chain issues, and skepticism of the economic future.

Currently, Massachusetts is heading in the wrong direction as small businesses in the state face some of the highest health care costs in the nation, increased energy prices, rising unemployment insurance taxes, and now some employers will experience an income tax hike on their retirement savings due to the so-called millionaires tax passing at the ballot box. Massachusetts is already an expensive state to run a small business and the residents of the Commonwealth must pressure their elected officials to assist neighborhood businesses not just by shopping or dining locally, but by enacting policies that will prevent their doors from closing forever.

Shopping small on Small Business Saturday is a good start, but also remember to keep those local restaurants and stores in mind when helping to influence policy decisions made by state and local lawmakers. When considering a new law or ordinance they should always ask: how will this impact small businesses and job creators in my community?

Massachusetts must be an affordable place to operate a business and many of the policies coming out of Beacon Hill and local city halls will help determine whether our Main Streets are filled with dark store fronts or thriving businesses.

Christopher Carlozzi is Massachusetts’ state director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses.

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