THINGS ARE ABOUT to get really straightforward. As the holidays draw closer, the bald face of commerce drops its pretenses and gets down to the business of parting you from your money. It's easy to get turned off by the financial stress, and manufactured holidays like "Black Friday" (which I usually spend at home, watching the Target/Walmart/Kohl's riots from the safe distance of YouTube).
As someone who actually enjoys shopping, this annual meltdown—crowds, competition, panic—is not what I'm talking about when I talk about shopping. "Malls are basically blah," says Katrina Scotto di Carlo, who co-founded Supportland, a rewards card for local businesses. "Sometimes you can save a few pennies, but is it really worth it when you consider what you're supporting? CEOs' inflated salaries while their own workers are struggling on Medicaid, corporations that squeeze their suppliers so hard that factory safety and environmental responsibility fly out the window... low prices have an ugly cost."
Luckily, because this is Portland, Black Friday here has an increasingly well-established alternative that encourages staying in the mellower climes of independent retail. Little Boxes is the brainchild of the Betsy + Iya jewelry line/store team Betsy Cross and Will Cevarich (who are also married). Now in its third year, Little Boxes has about 200 participating retailers, along with a brand-new app to help you navigate them, a raffle with a top prize worth $2,000, and on Tuesday, November 26, City Commissioner Nick Fish even made an appearance at the Little Boxes HQ to give the program his official seal of approval.
The program is set up to be leisurely and interactive, with some stores planning special touches like live music or refreshments, in addition to sales and other promotions. "It's not just about checking things off your list," says Cevarich. "It's more about the experience and discovery."
Cynics will contend that indie consumerism is still consumerism, and that's true; again with the straightforwardness. But Cevarich and Cross make the argument that Little Boxes is also just a good way to explore the city. If you find something, great—it will improve your chances of winning a raffle prize. If not, you'll have at least spent your time in unique, personal spaces, and in many cases alongside the people whose visions they represent.
As Little Boxes grows, it's also diversifying. Betsy + Iya may be among the city's hipper destinations, but the event isn't about curating the coolest combination of shops. "The bigger point is a coming together of lots of people and points of views that appeal to a wide audience," says Cross. Cevarich concurs, saying, "It's about inclusion. We're not turning anybody away—if they are a locally owned retail shop, they're in. It's about the needs and incentives of the customer. It's not a popularity contest."
To that end, it's also worth pointing out that even though Little Boxes covers a lot of ground, there are independent businesses outside the program who will be having their own mini-Black Fridays (see the event sidebar on this page for a few suggestions). Virtually any shop that's open will be having some sort of sale—it's practically law. And, for the same two days that Little Boxes will be operational—Black Friday as well as Small Business Saturday—Supportland is cranking up to reward local shoppers with triple the number of points than usual. "I would rather purchase high-quality goods in one of the many neighborhood business gems in Portland and know I'm part of the solution," says Scotto di Carlo of programs, like hers, that encourage getting away from big-box economies. Cevarich is more measured, making a comparison between Portland's food and shopping scenes. "If you just want a super-affordable meal, we go to Chipotle all the time. But if you want an experience that's uniquely Portland, we go to Tasty n Sons." Little Boxes, Fri Nov 29 & Sat Nov 30, littleboxespdx.com; Supportland, supportland.com
THIS WEEK'S STYLE EVENTS
(AKA More indie alternatives to Black Friday)
• It's an annual tradition for small shops and designers to throw their own Black Friday events, which are some of the most fun places to shop. Such is the case with Black Magic, a group event featuring an all-star cast of vendors: Better Late Than Never, OLO Fragrance, AK Vintage, Tiro Tiro, Winnow NYC, Sword + Fern, Portland Apothecary, Yo Vintage!, BOET, and Crazy Wind. The Cleaners, 403 SW 10th, Fri Nov 29, 11 am-6 pm
• Una is inarguably one of the most wonderfully put-together boutiques in town, and any gift buying you do there is nearly guaranteed to make someone's day. They're jumping into the Black Friday fray, with 30 percent off apparel and 20 percent off accessories and home goods, extending through the weekend. Una, 922 SE Ankeny, Fri Nov 29-Sun Dec 1, unanegozio.com
• Shopping for apparel gifts, especially locally made, can add up quick. But this group sale, featuring Carolyn Hart Designs, Clair Vintage Inspired, Hubris Apparel, Orange Exterior, and She-She, promises that nothing will top $60. Nashionland, 1121 N Loring, #102, Fri Nov 29, 10 am-4 pm
• As for non-Black Friday affairs, LiFT is having a sample sale, with 25-75 percent off one-of-a-kinds, plus the requisite snacks and drinks and discounts on host Sticks & Stones' rings, too. The Specialty Store, 524 NW 23rd, Sat Nov 30, 11 am-5 pm
• The Specialty Store does double duty, switching over in the evening for the debut of hat and apparel company Findlay Hats, an open bar, "slow-motion photo booth," brand video premiere, DJ, and more. The Specialty Store, 524 NW 23rd, Sat Nov 30, 6-10 pm