This paper advances stakeholder salience theory from the viewpoint of small businesses. It is argued that the stakeholder salience process for small businesses is influenced by their local embeddedness, captured by the idea of social proximity, and characterised by multiple relationships that the owner-manager and stakeholders share beyond the business context. It is further stated that the ethics of care is a valuable ethical lens through which to understand social proximity in small businesses. The contribution of the study conceptualises how the perceived social proximity between local stakeholders and small business owner-managers influences managerial considerations of the legitimacy, power and urgency of stakeholders and their claims. Specifically, the paradoxical nature of close relationships in the salience process is acknowledged and discussed.