With the holiday shopping season underway, New Jersey communities have been working to help shine a spotlight on small businesses amid continued hardships due to COVID-19.

In time for Small Business Saturday, Monmouth County announced a new "Made in Monmouth" interactive directory, with more than 85 vendors from across the county. Qualified vendors also can register to be included.

The annual day, observed between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, was started by American Express in 2010.

According to U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) Regional Administrator Steve Bulger, 72,940 New Jersey small retailers employ a total of 160,033 workers, which accounts for 34% of retail employment throughout the state.

"Small Business Saturday could be a much needed boost to carry them into 2021,” Bulger said in a written release.

Red Bank has a directory of small businesses looking for support, along with discounts specific to Small Business Saturday.

Asbury Park Chamber of Commerce has a year-round directory of small businesses and updated information during the pandemic on which are offering curbside pickup and other options.

"Small businesses generate $68 of local economic return for every $100 spent with them," according to Union Township officials in Union County, who also have compiled a listing of downtown businesses eager for local support.

In Camden County, Downtown Haddonfield has launched its traditional season of festive wintry decorations and free parking to help entice shoppers to support independently-owned stores and food and beverage establishments.

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In Somerset County, Downtown Somerville has a listing of more than 40 small businesses for shoppers to support this season. On Saturday, there will be live music on Division Street from 1 until 8 p.m. and an information tent set up for raffle entries, maps and Downtown Somerville merch.

In Middlesex County, Downtown Metuchen has a listing of small businesses and special discounts to kickoff the holiday season on Saturday.

Pitman, in Gloucester County, is offering a Shop Small Saturday Passport, available for pickup in the Pitman Gallery & Art Center) from 10 a.m. until noon, along with free shopping bags for the first 100 visitors.

Bulger continued “Let’s not forget that New Jersey small business owners accounted for a combination of 278,000 Economic Injury Disaster Loans and Payroll Protection Program loans totaling $24.3 billion. It’s a constant reminder to us that many Garden State small business owners are still navigating the effects of the pandemic.”

The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) research center has found in a series of surveys since the pandemic began that the health crisis has not been impacting small businesses equally.

In an August survey, the NFIB noted "abrupt shifts in consumer spending, managing consumer and employees’ health and safety, and complying with new mandates" since last spring have been creating added stress for most small business owners.

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