Should Black Friday be re-named? Popular for its day-after-Thanksgiving deep discounts, the annual shopping smackdown might more accurately be designated “Black and Blue Friday” in recognition of crushed toes, bruised ribs and crowded parking lots of the bargain bin Red Zones.
‘Tis the season to do something different, something small--as in small business.

“Small Business Saturday” is tomorrow and it offers a solution to some of those traditional holiday shopping challenges. It’s a smart new initiative launched by American Express to build support for the nation’s local establishments that create jobs and offer significant economic benefits to both their neighborhoods and the United States at large.

Do small businesses offer big discounts? Absolutely. These local establishments have to compete with the mega-stores, so you’ll find some real bargains. Quite often, you’ll get an additional price cut and a real smile when the deal’s done.

Chances are the person who helps you will be the store’s owner, a local resident who will entertain your request for a price break even if it isn’t advertised. And the sales associates of small businesses are usually determined to ensure that your shopping experience is one you’ll want to repeat because they know that their livelihoods depend on giving you good customer service.

You can also expect fewer door dents and flying tackles on Small Business Saturday because these neighborhood enterprises tend to be located in areas with ample parking, which we all know inspires courtesy, the essence of the holiday spirit.

Small businesses are, of course, also widely recognized as the “backbone” of the nation’s economy. Just before the recession struck, these enterprises each year generated more than half of the nation’s non-farm gross domestic product, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration. Collectively they had annually given the nation nearly two-thirds of its net-new jobs for the past 15 years and employed over half of all private-sector workers, in addition to paying 44 percent of the total U.S. payroll.

For all of those reasons, America’s nearly 30 million small businesses were touted broadly by politicians of all stripes during the recent election. Unfortunately, their status as a vital economic force is often overshadowed by the Fortune 500 firms.

It’s important to note that small, local businesses provide valuable economic benefits directly to their communities. A major share of the wages from the jobs they create is returned to the local economy, supporting other local businesses and neighborhood services. The entrepreneurs themselves are often leading citizens who volunteer their time, financial support and energy to sustain community initiatives.

Ironically, this group that contributes so much is also disproportionately burdened by challenges rooted in government’s treatment of business. Small businesses have long been burdened by tax laws that favored big companies with special rates and exemptions. 

Their owners struggle to obtain affordable health coverage for themselves and their employees while large corporations simply add such items to the cost of doing business. And the burden of complying with government regulation has always been a competitive disadvantage for small firms, in reality a tax on owners’ time.

It should be obvious: what is good for small business is good for America. But today, the mood on Main Street is bleak. Optimism among entrepreneurs, as surveyed by the National Federation of Independent Business, has been stuck at recession levels for more than two years. The main cause: too few customers, not enough sales.

Small Business Saturday is a unique idea to help Main Street, but an important boost must also come from Washington. The best holiday gift the “lame-duck” Congress and the president could give the nation and its small firms would be to extend soon-expiring income tax rates and prevent a massive tax hike that could deepen the recession.

The prospect for policies that will that encourage small-business owners--particularly affordable health care and reduced regulation--is more likely when the 112th Congress begins in January, for there will be more than 240 pro-small-business lawmakers taking their seats—24 of which are members of NFIB. These are people who know the importance of balancing budgets, meeting payrolls, and keeping their word to customers whose trust must be earned daily.

Small Business Saturday is more than a holiday promotion, and the coming months should produce something more than small-business lip service from Washington, D.C. Together, the right kind of attention from consumers and lawmakers could kindle an economic recovery. And as an added bonus, it may eliminate the need to rename the other event “Black and Blue Friday.”

Dan Danner is the President and CEO of the National Federation of Independent Business.