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After owning one’s own home, operating a small business is arguably the second most common dream shared by Americans. But that dream could turn into a nightmare for many entrepreneurs this holiday season—the shortest since 2002, with just 27 shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas—and an economy that has forced even the most generous to limit spending.

Local retailers must brace for the ripple effects of a wildly fluctuating stock market, a projected 10-percent reduction in consumer foot traffic and an unprecedented projected 4-percent decrease in total online retail sales during the 2008 holiday shopping season. All spell bad news for retailers of all sizes.

There is good news, too. The holidays traditionally bring out the best in people, and that means that those of us who can afford to do so will buy presents for family members and friends, even if it means cutting back on ourselves. There will be money to be made—and local business owners will need to work hard to make sure that they stay in the black this year and, more important, survive until the return of the summer crowds.

To help our mom-and-pop stores, shoppers need to support them as much as possible. Our downtown business districts, from Sag Harbor to Southampton Village to Westhampton Beach to Center Moriches, offer something for every customer and, as an added bonus, shoppers do not have to sit in traffic or wait in line just to find a parking space at the outlets.

Local chamber groups are also doing their part to drum up some business. For example, the Greater Westhampton Chamber of Commerce sponsored its “Christmastime on Main Street” festival last weekend, an event that not only has become an annual tradition, but one that brings plenty of foot traffic, all potential shoppers, to the downtown business district. With just the small commitment to put up a few lights for the village Christmas tree and offer complimentary horse-drawn carriage rides and special sales, retailers are investing in their business community.

The rest is up to the shoppers. The least we can do is support our friends and neighbors.

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