This has been one heck of a rough year for small business owners.

So it’s more important than ever to shop at small businesses this holiday season. They need our help to survive.

According to the American Express Shop Small Impact Study, 46% of small business owners across the United States are counting on above-average holiday sales this year just so they re-open in 2021. American Express started Small Business Saturday back in 2009.

“In a normal year [the holiday shopping season] brings in the bulk of these retailers’ sales,” said Adam Leiter, executive director of the East Passyunk Avenue Business Improvement District. “But this year, in this current environment, how we shop during the holiday season will play an enormous role in which shops will still be here at the end of the pandemic.”

» READ MORE: These are the current Philadelphia coronavirus guidelines

So be careful. But shop now. Your neighborhood depends on it.

“These companies are built on the expectations that they are hiring people and firing people based on how Christmas sales go,” said John Dick, CEO of Pittsburgh-based consumer market research firm, Civic Science. “So as a society, we can’t just say, ‘Oh well, we’ll deal with this in the spring,’ because many of these businesses won’t last until spring.

So how do we support our local businesses safely this Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday? Here are some tips:

Shop online

Before the pandemic, many small businesses hadn’t invested in an online presence because they relied on foot-traffic and word of mouth, said Kristine Kennedy, executive director of the Northern Liberties Business Improvement District. But in order to stay in business, these business owners launched websites and grew their Instagram presence. “Use the web site as an opportunity to browse,” Kennedy said. “You can really get an idea of what you want.”

Found something you like? Kennedy suggests that you pay online. And make arrangements for curbside pickup. The less contact, the better.

» READ MORE: Six-week shutdown could mean a ‘year without Christmas’ for Philly businesses

Shop by appointment

Many local specialty stores have gone appointment-only because it limits the number of shoppers in the store. Those of us who crave customer service will appreciate the one-on-one attention. “Use this opportunity to create a personal shopping experience for yourself,” Leiter said. “Take this opportunity to ask questions and learn all you can about the product you are buying. Who knows, you may even find other gift options.”

Shop quickly

Don’t lollygag. You want to get in and out for two reasons: The less time you spend in the store, the less risk of exposure. And there may be people outside waiting to get in. “We want people to come out and support the stores and have a positive shopping experience. But we are in a pandemic, so there has to be some compromises in how we shop,” Kennedy said. “Enjoy the experience of being in the store and having an in person transaction, but don’t linger too long.”

Be patient

Don’t be surprised if there is a line to get in your favorite store. Per the COVID-19 restrictions, retail stores are only allowed a maximum of five people per 1,000 square feet. If you find yourself waiting, wander into a coffee shop and get some hot chocolate. Window shop at the other stores on the block. Stay in your car. But stick it out. It’s better to wait a little while longer this year than see your store close for good. Also, once you get in there you can rest assured that the shop owner is following the rules and likely taking all the necessary precautions to keep you safe.

Bring your mask

At this point, this should be obvious Wear your mask in the store and on a crowded street. Store owners will likely not let you in without a mask. and if they do don’t go in. While we are on it, carry hand sanitizer and use before you enter, and after you leave. And, if the owner asks to take your temperature, let them.

» READ MORE: CDC declares masks also protect wearers from COVID-19, joining scientific consensus

Shop and post

According to the American Express study, 78% of U.S. businesses are counting on us to post on social media to help drive holiday business. In fact, the study found those posts are worth an estimated $197 billion for America’s small business economy. The survey also found that 89% of consumers are more likely to shop at small businesses recommended by friends and peers. In other words: shop and post. And shop and post again!

Buy a gift card

If going out gives you the skivvies, buy a gift card. That way, Dick said, you can support the business now and your gift recipient can look forward to a fun shopping experience in the future. “Buying gift cards are a good way your favorite business can get the cash they need now, so they have a better chance of being there for you later.”

Check the return policies

Return policies are very deliberate these days, said Corie Moskow, executive director of Rittenhouse Row. “If you are going to need to return something, talk to the store owner in advance.”

Have a plan

Make a list of who you are shopping for. Don’t wait til the last minute to shop, especially if you want things shipped. Store hours vary, so make sure you check them before heading out. Build an itinerary, Kennedy said, Maybe you shop Old City on Saturday and Manayunk the following week. “You have to be a little bit more intentional this year,” Kennedy said. “Schedule a lot of time. Everything takes slightly longer.”

How to find small businesses near you

Support a Black-owned local business in or near Philly
  • Here is a list of Black-owned businesses businesses in the Philadelphia area, with a column about the Black Friday deals at each.

Find a local business in your neighborhood

Many of the city’s small businesses can be found in neighborhoods — most of which are walkable. Here is where you can find small businesses near you.

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