Good things do come in Little Boxes | Crain's Portland

Good things do come in Little Boxes

Consumers patronize Little Box stores during the 2016 Small Business Saturday weekend event. | Photo courtesy of Little Boxes

For many in Portland, holiday shopping has become more of a sustained movement to support small, local businesses rather than a frenzied Black Friday quest for the best deals in the predawn darkness.

Since 2011, Little Boxes has helped lead that evolution. The brainchild of Betsy Cross and Will Cervarich, the husband-and-wife duo behind the boutique jewelry shop betsy & iya, Little Boxes seeks to entertain shoppers and encourage them to explore Portland’s neighborhoods while supporting the small specialty shops that have helped define Portland’s retail scene. That first year, 90 retailers participated, and last year more than 220 from all over the city took part.

This year, Little Boxes’ new owner, Built Oregon, plans to double that number with more resources for retailers and an extra shopping day. The event will expand to three days following Thanksgiving, from Friday Sunday, Nov. 24 to 26.

“As a longtime supporter and sponsor, Built Oregon was the perfect choice to take this community-focused event to the next level,” says betsy & iya’s Cervarich. “Their mission supports local retailers and entrepreneurs, and Built Oregon brings a team of professionals to increase awareness and make the shopping experience even better.”

Small players in the spotlight

At a time of year when big boxes like Target and Best Buy tend to dominate and online retailers like Amazon threaten the brick-and-mortar scene in general, Little Boxes shepherds consumers to Portland’s independently owned retail stores. Participating shoppers visit and make purchases from Little Box stores to earn raffle tickets and unlock prizes over the course of the three-day event.

“It is absolutely my favorite holiday shopping event," said Portland resident Holley Jensen. "I was never a Black Friday shopper. I’ve always hated the crowds and when possible, have preferred to buy thoughtful and unique presents from community shops, rather than whatever is mass-produced at Macy’s.

“Little Boxes helps me better navigate the city boutiques beyond my Fremont neighborhood," Jensen continued "I leave my family at home, grab a latte, meet some girlfriends and can usually knock out all of my holiday shopping in a day. It’s fun and festive and I feel good about it too, knowing I’m supporting Portland’s small businesses and artists.”

The retailers and shops that participate in the Little Boxes program provide opportunities for a diverse and broad mix of companies, ranging from a local artisan jeweler to a small-batch food manufacturer.

“Little Boxes has been super-important for us in getting new bodies into our brick-and-mortar store,” says Marcus Harvey, owner of Portland Gear. “Portland is all about shopping local. An event that promotes that and helps small businesses is a big deal to us and other local brands.” 

Benefits on a wider scale

Indeed, Terry St. Marie, Built Oregon’s co-founder, points out that a number of little purchases can collectively have a big economic impact, not just on the businesses themselves but in Portland’s communities.  

Owners can hire workers for a direct-to-retail effect. But also, when the business makes money, St. Marie notes that patronizing allows the owners of these shops to hire local help, create space for artists texting out brick-and-mortar sales and continue to stay in business. Even broader are the community effects, he says, of enabling business owners to continue their education, put their kids in after-school activities and enable their employees to eat lunch or buy coffee at nearby stores.

"The Little Boxes campaign has done an amazing job of bringing attention to supporting independent, locally owned businesses in our city,” says Erica Essink, owner of Woonwinkle “Especially important during the holidays, when people are busy and have so many choices.  Our small businesses are what make our city interesting and healthy, and we are so thankful for the support of Little Boxes in promoting that.”

Built Oregon is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization focusing on championing consumer goods products and companies throughout Oregon. 

“We’re thrilled to welcome Little Boxes to the Built Oregon family to further connect our community of shoppers and retailers,” St. Marie says. “We recognize that the vibrancy of the local economy depends on all of us to support our local specialty retailers during Little Boxes – and all year long.”

Built Oregon supports entrepreneurs throughout Oregon by being the voice championing the businesses they are building, shining a light on individual regions, and revealing the economic impact these entrepreneurs and their companies have all across Oregon, all of which culminates in an annual gathering, the Built Up Festival.

“We’re participating in our 7th year of Little Boxes,” says Jonathan Galloway, President, Perch Furniture. “We love the cross collaboration of the event and the real value it creates for our customers. Retail may seem like a competitive landscape, but Little Boxes helps us collaborate with other great stores in Portland and share a great story, experience and most importantly discounts to our customers.”


WHEN:     Friday through Sunday, Nov. 24-26, 2017 

WHERE:  Portland’s independently owned boutiques & businesses.

WHAT:      Fun, local alternative to Black Friday with raffle prizes and in-store promotions.

For additional information about the event and a list of retailers as they are added, please visit, and follow on Twitter at: @LittleBoxesPDX 

November 17, 2017 - 6:51pm