When I was 5, I received my first “fishing pole.” We didn’t have a lot of money. There were seven of us living in an 1,800-square-foot house with three bedrooms and one bathroom.

My fishing pole was just a plastic handle that had fishing line wrapped around the outside. It wasn’t really a fishing pole, but it was mine.

I sat much of the afternoon fishing off a dock in Key Biscayne. Not even a nibble until my parents called me to come home. “Wait, I’ve got one!” I didn’t, but I was stalling for time.

“No, come home now!”

“OK.” At that exact moment, wonder of wonders, a fish somehow attached itself to my line. Yipping in delight, I began to twist the line around the plastic handle and bring the fish closer to me. I yanked the fish up on the dock with a mighty 5-year-old pull.

The fish immediately began to jump, spin and pirouette as if it were a gymnast doing floor exercises at the Olympic Games. I grabbed for the flopping fish. The fins cut my hand. With a yell, I stepped back, leaving the fish to fight for its life without my help.

Dad quickly stepped on the fish, removed the hook, and slid the fish back in the water to live another day. He explained to me a fish leaping with all its might on the dock was fighting for its life. Fish need water to breathe, just like people need air to breathe.

I think of that story as I watch many of our locally owned small businesses fighting for their lives. They are fighting as hard as they can, but small businesses need customers to stay alive, just like a fish needs water.

What is clear is that the federal government is not going to help these businesses. The state of Florida is not going to help these businesses.

Our federal and state governments pulled our locally owned businesses out of the water and left them flopping on the deck. No matter how hard they try, many family-owned local businesses may die because our government ordered a closure of their doors for too long.

There is only one way these businesses survive. Customers. Without customers, a small business is a fish out of water, flopping on the dock, fighting for its life.

It is up to us to save our local merchants. Wash your hands, put on a mask, get in your car, socially distance and shop local.

Many of us are familiar with the charming story about a grandfather walking along a Florida beach with his grandson. A bad storm had just passed, and there were tens of thousands of starfish washed up on the beach.

The grandson repeatedly bent over, picked up a starfish, and tossed it back into the ocean to live another day. The would-be wise old grandfather said to his grandson, “Look around. There are tens of thousands of starfish on the beach. You can’t save them all.”

As he picked up yet another starfish to toss back into the water, the grandson looked up into his grandfather’s eyes and said, “Yes, I know, but I can save this one.”

Today, which local business will you help save?

David Dunn-Rankin is CEO of D-R Media, which owns the Highlands News-Sun and the Highlands Sun, as well as newspapers in Lake, Polk and Sumter counties. He can be reached at David@D-R.Media .^p