Small businesses set our communities apart.

You can find the same chain restaurants and big-box retailers in Peoria, Rockford and Springfield. It's the small businesses that give our communities character.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s your favorite sit-down restaurant, a hot-dog stand, a bike shop or a hardware store. Small local businesses make visiting our cities unique.

They're run by local people who know that if they don’t provide great customer service or create a superior shopping experience, they won’t be in business long.

Shopping at a local small business is something you should do all year long. If, however, you don’t know much about your local small business scene, Saturday is the day to check it out.

Small Business Saturday, sandwiched between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, was created by American Express in 2010 to help small businesses get more exposure during the holiday shopping season.

It’s worked well. According to the results of the Small Business Saturday Consumer Insights Survey conducted by the National Federation of Independent Business and American Express, 108 million customers spent $12.9 billion at small independent businesses on Small Business Saturday in 2017.

Ninety percent of those surveyed said Small Business Saturday had a positive effect on their community and 80 percent of those surveyed said they would be doing at least some of their Christmas shopping at a local small business. Other surveys have shown that 94 percent of Americans think it's important to support small businesses.

Those small businesses make you feel like family because they are run by families. About 90 percent of small businesses are family-owned or controlled, according to the Census Bureau.

The impact small businesses have on our communities goes well beyond our shopping needs. Small businesses are big economic engines — especially in Illinois.

The Illinois Policy Institute found businesses with fewer than 50 employees created 83 percent of new jobs in Illinois during 2017 while businesses with more than 250 employees cut more than 1,000 jobs.

Nationally, 60 percent of new jobs were created by small businesses. Small businesses employ 58.9 million, or 47.5 percent of all private-sector employees. Companies with fewer than 20 employees showed the biggest growth in 2015 by adding 1.1 million net jobs, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration.

More than 22 million small businesses in the United States are individually operated — in other words, the boss is the only employee.

Small businesses are innovators. Small businesses produced 16 times more patents per employee than larger patenting firms, according to the Small Business Administration. Small businesses account for 43 percent of high-tech employment.

Remember, big businesses started small. Apple went from nothing in 1976 to a $700 billion company today.

“I’m convinced that about half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the nonsuccessful ones is pure perseverance,” Apple co-founder Steve Jobs said.

Local small businesses create jobs and recirculate money back into the community. Surveys consistently show that for every dollar you spend at an independent local business, more of that money stays in your community than if you spent that buck with a national business. About 48 percent of what you spend at a local business is recirculated into the community. A chain store recirculates less than 14 percent.

It’s even more for local restaurants — 65 percent to 30 percent. Anyone hungry?

Running your own business is hard work, which is why about 20 percent fail within the first year. The one-year survival rate for businesses hit 79.9 percent in 2016 — the highest proportion since 2006, according to Forbes. About half survive five years or longer, but only one-third survive 10 years or more.

Healthy communities depend on healthy economies, and small businesses are the backbone of local economies.

Most of us have just started to think about Christmas shopping, and there are people on our lists for whom we have no clue what to buy. But we'll probably find that special gift be at a locally-owned small business.