This year, shoppers can sleep in the morning of Small Business Saturday, Nov. 28, as local establishments won't be looking to pack their shops with early bird bargain hunters, thanks to the continuing presence of COVID-19 in Maine.

Instead, Our Town Belfast has developed an alternative plan that will allow for safe and enjoyable holiday shopping and dining experiences downtown from Friday, Nov. 27, through Monday, Dec. 14. Rather than drawing crowds, the new program offers an incentive to spread out holiday shopping over that period.

Using a "Holiday Passport," shoppers and diners who make purchases from Nov. 27 through Dec. 14 at a minimum of five downtown businesses will be entered to win one of several gift card packages to downtown businesses totaling over $3,500.

For a list of participating Belfast businesses, visit https://ourtownbelfast.org/holidaypassport.

NFIB: Browse national, shop local

The National Federation of Independent Businesses urges people to support  locally owned restaurants and retail shops this year, one of their most difficult years ever.

If people prefer not to go out shopping this season, NFIB reminds shoppers that many small businesses offer their products online as well as for home delivery or curbside pickup — and a small-business owner is more likely to be available by phone if customers have questions.

"Showing support for local businesses on Small Business Saturday and throughout 2021 will help business owners get past the recent economic downturn. That will help keep communities vibrant," NFIB said in a press release.

“Browse nationally but shop locally to help Maine’s thousands of small businesses survive the current economic hardship,” NFIB State Director David Clough said. “Small shops, restaurants and other local businesses are a source of jobs for your neighbors, donations for your local youth events and charity drives, and pride for your community. Your purchase at these small companies keeps your money working locally for a strong Maine economy.”

Small Business Saturday has been held the weekend after Thanksgiving since it was created 11 years ago by American Express following the 2009 recession. The idea was that if consumers could be encouraged to “shop small” and support local businesses, it would lead back to a healthy economy.

The event has gained in popularity, and last year, sales on Small Business Saturday reached a record $9.6 billion, according to the Small Business Saturday Consumer Insights Survey conducted by American Express and NFIB.

Research commissioned by American Express shows that each dollar spent creates another 50 cents of local business activity as a result of employee spending and businesses purchasing local goods.