Customers browse in The Rock and Art Shop in Bangor. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

The BDN Editorial Board operates independently from the newsroom, and does not set policies or contribute to reporting or editing aticles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.

Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and the holiday shopping season in general are always a critical time for retailers, including local merchants. That is especially true this year and businesses continue to manage the COVID pandemic and its consequences.

Shopping local — buying from stores and makers in your community — has become a catchy phrase. But this year especially, buying items that are on local store shelves or made just for you isn’t just good for the Maine economy, it may be the only way you’ll have gifts for family and friends in time for the holidays.

Supply chain woes, which include cargo ships sitting unloaded in ports, a shortage of truck drivers and a dearth of raw materials, plague many manufacturers and retailers.

The CEO of L.L. Bean recently warned that holiday shoppers should buy early to ensure what they want is available.

“Shopping early, shopping now, definitely is critical,” Stephen Smith told an audience at Husson University last week. “We will be low in inventory by the time Christmas comes around.”

Shopping local won’t eliminate all of these problems, but it can avoid some of them.

“When you shop locally from a local maker and a small business, particularly with local items, you’re cutting down on some of those issues with the national and international supply chains,” Cary Tyson of Portland Downtown told CBS affiliate WGME last week.

The message to prioritize local vendors in your holiday shopping cannot be stressed enough again this holiday season. While online and retail giants like Amazon and Walmart are doing just fine during the pandemic, many of America’s small businesses are suffering — with thousands nationwide closing their doors for good.

There is yet another reason for Maine shoppers to target their holiday spending toward local businesses when they can: Nearly half the money spent at local shops, restaurants and other businesses is recirculated locally, according to information from the American Independent Business Alliance. That’s compared with just 14 cents of every dollar spent at a big-box chain.

“It makes me feel so good when people come in here, because I can tell them, ‘You just supported seven small businesses by shopping here,’” Marie Stewart Harmon of the Portland shop Lisa Marie’s Made in Maine told WGME.

No matter where or when people shop in the coming weeks, they should do so as safely as possible. When shopping in person, follow public health guidelines and requirements. Don’t rush to stores in search of deals. Still avoid large crowds. Wear a mask, keep your distance from other people and keep your hands clean.

Many consumers may be more comfortable shopping online than in crowded stores. People should explore options from Maine-based online retailers. Sites like Maine Open Online and Black Owned Maine can help connect shoppers to Maine businesses from the comfort of their own home.

“Please consider buying from these merchants who are facing huge losses and a daunting future,” the Maine Open Online site reads. “Give them extra care and patience as it is likely one person packing and shipping your product.”

Shoppers should also remember that, as businesses have adapted during the pandemic, buying online and picking up in the store or using curbside pickup are often available options that allow you to support local businesses while limiting in-person contact.

Also remember this remains a tough economic time for many Americans and many Mainers. Buying gifts at such a time may not be in the cards for some people, and there is no shame in that. If you’re able to, try to reward your local businesses this holiday season by shopping small and shopping safely.

The BDN Editorial Board

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Editorial Page Editor Susan Young, Assistant Editorial Page Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked...