11/28/2011 08:39 pm ET Updated Jan 28, 2012

Small Business Saturday on Las Olas Boulevard

As a former small business owner (and as a descendant of a long line of small business owners), I embraced the Small Business Saturday idea. I decided to put my money where my opinions were and went to Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale to do some Christmas shopping.

It was great to see that the street was very busy. The restaurants were full -- as usual, there was a crowd at Mangos but many of the other restaurants were doing a good business, too (including Johnny V's and, of course, one of my personal favorites, Jimmy's Trata Greek restaurant).

I had gone to Needlepoint Originals with visiting relatives a few weeks ago (Carol, stop reading now) and saw a few things that my cousin loved (that is the great thing about browsing through shops with your friends and family -- you get a lot of gift ideas!) and I thought this would be a good time to buy. Not only did I buy something for her but I found something for one of my sisters and even a pair of beautiful earrings for myself (a bonus!).

I chatted a little with the lovely owner and she told me how she is always rethinking her inventory but that it is difficult to get enough traffic on the street (and away from the malls). After that, I stopped by Dazzles Boutique and spoke with the owner, Lucy. I got a beautiful gift for my other sister (shhh!) and was happy to hear that things were looking up. Then I stopped by Kilwin's and got a free cup of Toasted Coconut ice cream from my friend Stephen, who is also the owner. That is another benefit of shopping at your local small businesses!

One of my sisters owns Fierson's, a children's clothing store in Bronxville, NY, and she tells me that their main shopping street is really struggling and there are several stores going out of business. It is such a beautiful town -- what a shame that the locals are not making the most of those great little shops and restaurants within walking distance!

These businesses usually are solely funded by the owners -- they have taken their savings and risked everything to have their own shop. They work both in their business (sales, accounting, ordering, merchandising) and on their businesses (networking, marketing, managing) 24/7. Yes, usually shop hours are not bad but, as anyone who owns their own business knows, there is no such thing as time off. They put their whole hearts and all their energy and their hopes into their businesses.

One small business challenge is pricing. Individual stores cannot buy the same quantities as big stores and don't get those bulk prices. These stores are not overcharging. They are trying to pay for their inventory, their rent, their salespeople, their insurance, their utilities and all the other things they need (very rarely can they afford marketing!) in the hopes of making a profit.

Walking by empty storefronts is really heartbreaking. Landlords often made adjustments to the rent to accommodate the economic reality of the past few years, but not always. And empty storefronts can result in more empty storefronts. If there are several interesting stores to browse and shop and good restaurants to choose from, it is more likely that people will come.

I believe people would miss their local shops if they went out of business and their main streets looked like Old West ghost towns. Maybe people forget that, if they don't patronize them, these shops and restaurants will disappear.

It makes me think of that scene in You've Got Mail, when Meg Ryan's character is going out of business and her store is mobbed with people snatching up her discounted merchandise and waxing nostalgic about the store and saying how sorry they were that she was closing up shop. Where had they been?

Don't let this happen to your "shop around the corner"!