The day after Thanksgiving has long been identified in our highly commercialized society as Black Friday, a kick-off to the holiday shopping season that’s dominated by big-box retailers offering extreme deals on high-demand items. As national merchandising has also increasingly moved online, the post-Thanksgiving shopping push has more recently extended to the day after the season’s first weekend to Cyber Monday, when online retail behemoths have been joined by formerly only bricks-and-mortar national stores to pitch holiday deals at the push of a button on a keyboard or screen.

Though COVID-19 pandemic fallout has brought shifting shopping patterns, diluting many retailers’ once single-minded focus on Black Friday and shifting much online purchasing earlier than Cyber Monday, the bookending of the Thanksgiving weekend remains — at least for now — a fixture in the annual holiday shopping calendar.

Anyone seeking an additional holiday shopping path, however, will find there’s another, growing identity to the days of this weekend that is certainly less intense, can be equally satisfying in crossing names off the holiday gift list, and will help strengthen the local economy and the region’s community fabric. It begins with Plaid Friday, a buy-local alternative whose plaid component in its name, its official website once said, comes from “weaving the individual threads of small businesses together to create a strong fabric that celebrates the diversity and creativity of independent businesses.” And the promotional focus on local options continues this weekend, with tomorrow being Small Business Saturday, having similar emphasis on independent retailers. That’s followed by Artists Sunday, a reminder of the strength the local arts community adds to holiday shopping potential. Next up is Cider Monday, a whimsically named alternative to Cyber Monday offered by participating merchants who often draw customers by offering samples of that favorite fall beverage.

While these promotions won’t get the national TV airtime or online advertising push devoted to Black Friday and Cyber Monday, they serve an invaluable role in highlighting both what local retailers, artists and artisans offer for the holiday shopping season and their importance to the region. According to a study cited on the website of The Local Crowd Monadnock, which promotes local independent businesses, more than $60 of every $100 spent at a locally owned retailer is reinvested locally through jobs, charitable giving and other means, well in excess of the typical investment of national retailers in local economies. And an unmeasurable benefit of supporting area businesses is contributing to a greater sense of community, strengthening connections and assuring future vitality of the region and its identity.

The pandemic has challenged local businesses in ways unimagined two holiday shopping seasons ago. Last year brought restrictions on commercial traffic from lockdowns and, even after, continued social distancing concerns. While most area businesses adapted resourcefully, staffing shortages and supply-chain interruptions this year present new challenges to overcome.

We hope area shoppers will help them meet these challenges by pausing before clicking the “pay” button that sends dollars elsewhere and by first visiting an area store. There, no doubt, a local merchant will be eager to suggest alternatives to meet holiday shopping needs. Information about the local shops, service providers and others participating in this weekend’s promotional events can be found on the website.

Whether stopping by at any of these or any other local business over this weekend or later in the season, you not only might find an ideal, perhaps unexpectedly unique, gift but will be supporting a local business, its employees and, by extension, the region.

In addition, if you’re wanting to give back further as the holiday season kicks off, the day following this weekend’s promotions is worth consideration. Giving Tuesday is a reminder that there are other rewarding ways of holiday giving even beyond family and friends. Whether it be to nonprofits actively encouraging donations on Giving Tuesday, to other charitable organizations that also provide such valuable support to so many throughout the region or just by a random act of pay-it-forward kindness, your gift will also be a gift to all in the community.

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