Small Business Saturday may have come and gone, but there are still plenty of reasons to patronize small businesses this holiday season. Instead of ordering through Amazon or making yet another trip to the closest Wal-Mart, consider supporting the independent entrepreneurs who help our communities to thrive and prosper by "shopping small" for all your holiday shopping needs.

Why shop small? Because…

1. You get to choose from unique gift options.

Looking to give sweets and treats as holiday gifts? Don't order yet another fruitcake! Instead, look for locally made confections that recipients won't find elsewhere — or receive from another friend or acquaintance.

Prefer to shop small but on a global level? Check out Etsy.com, a website where you can "buy unique handmade items from independent sellers around the world."

2. You receive personalized (and most often superior) customer service.

No matter how many trips you make to Target, nobody there will remember your name. At smaller, local businesses, however, managers and employees are often on a first-name basis with customers, and are usually willing to go the extra mile to ensure satisfaction.

Plus, if you do encounter a problem or need to register a complaint, you can speak directly to someone at the top, rather than a minimum wage call center operator somewhere in the South Pacific.

3. You won't be overwhelmed.

Most small businesses are, well, small — in both size and scope. This isn't a bad thing. Who really enjoys walking into a giant warehouse where you're instantly overwhelmed by the sheer number of options available (especially when you're shopping with children)?

Seek out the smaller, specialty stores in your community and you'll enjoy a more relaxed and intimate shopping experience — and you'll benefit from the knowledge and recommendations of employees who are true experts in their niche. Can you say that about anybody who works at a big retailer? I think not.

4. You support your local community.

Small business owners often reside in the community where their business operates, which means they have a vested interest in supporting local residents and community initiatives. National chains like Applebee's may suggest that they're part of "your neighborhood," but ultimately, the money you spend with those companies is going elsewhere.

MSN Money reports that in a study of Salt Lake City, "an average of 52% of revenue from local retailers returned to the local economy, compared with only 14% for national chains." For restaurants, the disparity was even greater, "with local eateries returning an average of 79% versus just 30% for chains."

5. You have an opportunity to combat consumerism.

We've all seen the videos of angry crowds and trampled customers that have somehow become a symbol of Black Friday — and a sign of all that is wrong with our culture. But the malls and big box stores wouldn't be blatantly encouraging so much mayhem if the practices didn't boost their bottom lines.

If enough customers voted with their wallets and stopped participating in madness, the larger chains would be forced to take notice. Listen to Ghandi, and "be the change you wish to see in the world."

6. Your money directly impacts the quality of someone's life.

Many small business owners are struggling to pay their employees well and still make money for themselves, particularly in these difficult economic times. The money you spend with a small company — particularly a family business — frequently translates into food on the table and things like Christmas gifts and braces for the kids.

Small businesses will probably never offer the best bargains or allow you to shop at 3 in the morning, but they still offer many wonderful advantages for consumers. 'Tis the season of giving, so while you're shopping this December, don't forget to give back to the small businesses that contribute so much to our communities on a daily basis.

Are you shopping at small businesses this holiday season? Why or why not?