A weekend stroll through Toronto’s downtown quickly emphasizes just how important small businesses are to the vibrancy of our neighbourhoods. It’s these small merchants who give our communities their character (and our mornings their croissants, and our outfits their unique accessories, and our date nights their desserts-for-two). That’s why American Express is celebrating small businesses by encouraging you to join the Shop Small movement!

For us, shopping small is a privilege that we’re happy to exercise on a daily basis. We love grabbing our morning latte in line behind the owner of the neighbourhood’s best vintage boutique, and sitting down for dinner a table away from the barista who’s memorized our order. Shopping small is about more than great local goods and grub, it’s about feeling at home where you live, creating a community of neighbours.

As part of the Shop Small program, American Express wants to highlight the diversity of Canada’s small businesses by encouraging the retailers, restaurants and regular customers who support a thriving local economy. As an Amex Ambassador, I’m taking the #ShopSmall pledge to help ensure that Canadians are keeping small businesses at the top of their shopping lists. Can you Shop Small for an entire day? Week? How long can you go? We dare you to make it a challenge among your friends: The next few times you get together, try each other’s favourite neighbourhood spots!

But don’t stop there. If you have a favourite Shop Small business and you’re dying to sing its praises, vote for it in the Neighbourhood Gems contest! Word of mouth is the #1 way Canadians find out about small businesses in their neighbourhood, so spread the love! Just visit the American Express Canada Facebook page and find your favourite Shop Small spot on the Toronto map. You can vote for your favourite business once a day until April 21st Every time you vote, you help your favourite business make it to the final round of voting (April 29 – May 5) and earns you a chance to win a $50 American Express Gift Card.

The business with the most votes on May 5 will be crowned Toronto’s Neighbourhood Gem and will receive a 1:1 social marketing session with Facebook Canada (we TOLD you to get a Facebook page, crotchety-but-lovable manager of the corner coffee shop), an American Express Toronto Life Advertorial on their business in Toronto Life Magazine, and a celebratory event in their honour!

Support small businesses in your neighbourhood by taking the pledge and spreading the word with #ShopSmall

This post was sponsored by Amex Bank of Canada. The views and opinions expressed in this blog, however, are purely my own.