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If you're looking to avoid long lines, never-ending traffic and potential tramplings by other stressed-out shoppers, why not take a ride down your hometown's main street and give local small businesses a try this holiday season?

This Saturday, Nov. 24, retailers across the country are participating in Small Business Saturday. Now in its third year, Small Business Saturday aims to introduce holiday shoppers to locally-owned retailers as an alternative to larger, national ones.

Dave Dickson, district director of the United States Small Business Administration Philadelphia District Office, explained why Small Business Saturday is so important to our national economy.

"Small Business Saturday highlights American small business; there are 27 to 28 million small businesses in the United States and there are about one million of them right here in Pennsylvania," he said. "Small businesses count for two-thirds of all new jobs and they employ more than half of the private sector employees in the United States. They are the backbone of our nation's economy; they are hugely important."

Small businesses in Lackawanna County range from retailers of jewelry, arts, crafts and even products for your pets, among other things. While the products they sell may be different, they all agree on one thing - the customer service you get from a small business is vastly different from what you would get at a large chain retailer.

"There is a more personal atmosphere when you shop at a small business," said Meredith Callahan, owner of Pawsitively Pet Supplies in Old Forge. "I can answer questions for the customers or if I don't know the answer, I can find it out for them. I can also take special orders if I can't find a product or if the product is hard to find. I focus on customer service and the customers appreciate it; it helps foster good business."

Donna Zaremba, who owns Art Strands in Carbondale, said that one of the perks of being a small business owner is that she knows her customers as soon as they walk through the door.

"When you shop local, you get a level of customer service that you don't get at the big box stores," she said. "The business owners will go out of their way to help their customers and they know their customers by name."

Zaremba also said that part of the appeal of shopping local is that you will find items you would never see in a big box store.

"When you shop small, you will also get things that are made and produced right here in the United States and, often, right in your own backyard," she said. "You're getting one-of-a-kind items that aren't produced in mass quantities."

Donna Czarkowski, owner of Cloe & Co. in Clarks Summit, explained that the overall appeal of a small business is that the items aren't mass-produced but that they are painstakingly crafted.

"What we need to know is that the manufacturing industry is a lot different in the production of a product than the local business or artisan industry," she said. "In a small business, you can take a person who is sitting at a table in the confines of their own home who is beading a piece of jewelry and that person will have to produce so much of that item if they are in a store or shop because they have taken their product to a different level."

Dickson said that although some consumers may wonder how the small businesses can compete with large retailers, they can and they do on a regular basis.

"Small Business Saturday highlights the importance of small businesses to our nation's economy and growth," he said. "We are excited about Small Business Saturday, we love the idea of shopping small and trying to help support the sales of retail small businesses. There is consternation on how the small businesses can compete with the big-box stores like Target and Walmart but they compete with them every day and they can continue to do so in a variety of ways, such as location, product differentiation and strong customer service."

The bottom line in shopping small, though, is that when you shop local, the money stays local.

"Take a chance," Czarkowski said. "Spend the extra time and money in gas to drive to a small business because every dollar counts to build the local community."Local small businesses gear up for "Shop Local Saturday"