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December is the most critical month of the year for Fairfax County’s small merchants

The weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas are critical for those in the retail business, even more so for thousands of small-business owners who call Fairfax County home.

During the past decade, ever-expanding online businesses have put a squeeze on anyone who dared to open a furniture store in McLean, an ice cream shop in Great Falls or a music store in Reston. Local restaurants, card stores and bike shops haven’t fared much better.

For thousands of small business owners in Northern Virginia, the rising tide of outside competition has only been exacerbated by a relentless global recession that still appears to be searching for a bottom floor.

Given those obstacles, it is in our best interest to keep an eye — and a few dollars — out for the “little guy,” the one who typically employs half a dozen people and lives within a few miles of the business.

Why is this important?

Well, if you listen to most economists, 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 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 Fairfax 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.

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 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 organization?

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 Fairfax County's small-business owners on our radar screen.

When possible, try to eat, shop and bank locally.

It's in our best interest.