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Shop-local event draws 200 small businesses citywide, Nov. 24-26; it's an alternative to the big-box frenzy

COURTESY: LITTLE BOXES/JEN DOWNER - Rebecca Pearcy of Queen Bee Creations, a boutique on North Williams Avenue, is one of hundreds that will participate in this year's Little Boxes event, Nov. 24-26. 
Several days per week, Rebecca Pearcy and her crew of seamstresses can be found working on their industrial sewing machines, hand-printing wrapping paper or doing other design work in their store as shoppers browse their creations.

"We call it the hive; during the holidays we call ourselves the elves in the workshop," says Pearcy, owner of Queen Bee Creations, one of the many independent boutiques on North Williams Avenue.

Pearcy, who grew up sewing her own clothing since age 13, opened the shop from her own design of handbags on North Williams eight years ago, when the impacts of gentrification were just starting to show there.

"When we first moved in, it was sleepier; we were at the far end" of the row of restaurants and boutiques that drew foot traffic, she says.

Today, next to Peruvian restaurant Las Primas and The Box Social bar, Queen Bee now is in the middle of the hub.

She and many of her neighbors are among the nearly 200 small businesses that will participate in the seventh annual Little Boxes celebration that will kickstart the holiday shopping season this weekend.

COURTESY: LITTLE BOXES - Little Boxes is now housed under the nonprofit Built Oregon group, which champions made-in-Oregon products and companies. Between Friday, Nov. 24, and Sunday, Nov. 26, shoppers can download the Little Boxes app to earn one "ticket" to the raffle for each visit at a participating store.

Prizes include gift cards to local restaurants and shops and vacation packages, provided by the event's sponsors.

The third day of Little Boxes is new this year, following Small Business Saturday, Nov. 25.

In essence, Little Boxes is a citywide campaign to promote the independent neighborhood business districts — from Alberta, St. Johns, Montavilla and Sellwood to the Pearl District, Northwest Portland, Central Eastside and downtown.

There are sellers of toys, books, clothing, shoes, furniture, jewelry, home goods, artisan food and drink, local art, gift items and more.

But Little Boxes is more than just a shopping event.

For retailers, "it's an opportunity to build community among small business owners in the city," Pearcy says. "We talk with each other, share resources, have a voice."

For shoppers, the promotions offer a chance to find unique, local, handmade products in a festive atmosphere.

Some, of course, will opt out of Black Friday events altogether and choose to spend time at the beach, in the mountains, around the fire or on the trail with family and friends as part of the Thanksgiving weekend.

Pearcy says that's wonderful. But "I think if you're going to shop that weekend, obviously the right choice is to support your local small businesses," rather than the mall or big-box stores. "We have so much personality. You're going to have a unique experience. There's so much more on tap."

After six years under the ownership of co-founders Betsy Cross and Will Cervarich of the Northwest Portland jewelry shop betsy + iya, Little Boxes announced last week that it is now under the ownership of Built Oregon, a nonprofit that champions homegrown goods and businesses throughout Oregon.

"We're thrilled to bring Little Boxes into the Built Oregon community to further connect local shoppers and retailers," says Terry St. Marie, Built Oregon's co-founder.

"This event has become Portland's Black Friday and Small Business Saturday tradition and an alternative to the frenzy at the big-box retailers," St. Marie adds.

"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."

For more a list of participating retailers and more details: www.pdx.shoplittleboxes.com.

@jenmomanderson

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