The frenzy of holiday shopping is about to go full force. Starting in the wee hours of Friday - and in some cases Thursday - shoppers will be out en masse seeking the perfect gifts, ideally at bargain prices.
Black Friday may no longer hold the claim as the biggest shopping day of the year, but it remains an important symbolic start to the holiday season and a huge day for retailers. That's why so many will be opening earlier and offering specials.
The next few weeks are critical for stores and restaurants as they try to turn what in some cases has been a challenging year into a success and to build up reserves to cover the slow period that comes after the first of the year.
While shoppers understand the need for bargains, they also need to keep in mind that where they spend their money matters.
Consumers have a multitude of shopping choices, but not all of those establishments are there when your group seeks a donation for a fundraiser, a sponsorship for a sports team, an ad for a program or a donation for a community benefit.
Generally for those things, you call on businesses, including retailers and restaurants, in your community.
You don't have to look far to see how their generosity maintains the social fabric of our communities by raising money to fight disease; assist disaster victims; aid emergency services; battle crime and drugs; support schools, churches and other entities; and so much more.
Area stores also help in another way by providing jobs for thousands of friends and family members. Employment in the retail and wholesale sectors accounted for nearly one in five jobs in Blair County in September, according to the state Department of Labor and Industry.
There were 8,600 people employed in retail jobs in September, the latest figures available. Another 2,500 were working in the wholesale sector. That's out of a total 60,700 nonfarm jobs in the county that month.
With many retailers extending hours and hiring additional staff for the holiday sales season, the number of retail jobs likely has grown temporarily by hundreds, if not thousands.
Retailing also is an important job component in other area counties, employing 7,100 people in Cambria County and 7,400 in Centre County in September, according to the state Department of Labor and Industry. A breakdown for retail employment for other area counties isn't available.
These employees are among those who buy hoagies, candy, cookies, raffle tickets and more to support various causes.
All of these things are important to our community, and it's why we encourage area residents to shop and dine locally this holiday season.
This is a season of giving. It's only fitting that we try to give back to those stores, restaurants and other businesses that have lent a helping hand so many times throughout the year.