Instead of bumping elbows during the Black Friday frenzy of big-box stores, thousands of shoppers are heading to Portland's indie boutiques this weekend to support small, local businesses.Organizers of Little Boxes, now in its second year, originally launched the event as an alternative to chain stores. Founders Betsy Cross and Will Cervarich, co-owners of the Betsy + Iya jewelry boutique in Northwest Portland, wanted to highlight the distinct products offered at indie shops. Those goods are often handmade locally or are from lesser-known brands."It's created and run by retailers," Cervarich said. "We put a lot of heart and mind in something that would be exciting to us."Little Boxes will be much larger than last year, when only 90 shops participated, and 8,000 raffle tickets were sold.This year, Cross and Cervarich expect to draw the event's largest crowds Friday and Saturday. The husband-and-wife duo brought on 170 stores and, in anticipation of the event's growing popularity, printed 35,000 raffle tickets for prizes such as an iPad, gift certificates and an ice cream party for 20 people at Ruby Jewel. Shoppers also get 10 percent off their purchase if they bought something from another participating store, among other perks.Indie shops will be grouped into clusters of Portland neighborhoods, including the downtown, East Burnside, North Portland and Southeast areas. Maps showing all the store locations will be available inside each shop."It's going to be crazy," Cervarich said. SHOP ALTERNATIVELYLittle Boxes spotlights unique items that shoppers wouldn't normally find at say, a Target, Best Buy or Walmart. It's especially beneficial for people searching for an elegant necklace made in Portland or men's loafers sold only in polished boutiques. The event also makes it easier to buy gifts for hard-to-please, quirky friends.With that in mind, EYES + EDGE wandered through various indie shops on North Mississippi Avenue. The mission: nail down top picks for just those sorts of oddball friends, using gifts only from participating Little Boxes shops.First up, the "nerd." He's the friend who's not only intensely smart, but stubborn to a fault over the precision of details. He knows exactly why he buys something -- it's maroon, not red -- and won't budge from facts he deems incontrovertible. Every gift for him must be considered with utmost thought.The journey began at Emerald Petals, which sold a succulent plant ($14) and a nearby one with a cactus ($10). These little containers of ecosystems might satisfy the nerd's obsession with neatness and careful attention to detail. Down the street at Flutter, tonic bottles ($28) lined a shelf, perfect for any nerd who has a special routine for daily grooming. A bow tie with a utensils pattern ($80) and rows of assorted men's loafers and shoes at Manifesto would be perfect for the nerd who's also impeccably dressed. Then, there's the "thug." She's the type of daredevil who, when given a plate of choices, will always opt for the most outrageous one. Camping trips tend to end with some kind of mishap, such as a submerged kayak or a broken bone or a courageous leap off some rocks. She drinks cheap hard liquor, wears neon tights on the weekends and speaks her mind out of turn.An exploded monkey head ($450) and all kinds of animal skulls might fit the thug's natural fondness for unusual things. There were coyote skulls, dual beaver skulls, a stuffed bobcat and even a functional hoof rack ($225) at Paxton Gate. Thick coasters ($2) from Flutter would withstand the thug's rowdy parties. The store offered all kinds of random goodies and entertainment scattered throughout the store, including a "Naked Hollywood" book and a "Shadow Pictures" picture book on making puppets with your hands in the dark. A chain link bracelet ($45), a tie with crossed guns ($87) and Portland zip code necklaces ($67) from Manifesto would also make the thug stand apart from the others and lend a toughness to their wardrobe. Finally, there's the "gypsy." She may or may not brush her teeth every day, and she enjoys a simple life, if rough at times. She wears bohemian chic outfits and enjoys buying vintage furniture and old, worn trinkets. She likes to say that every item has a story, a history from past generations.Rows of backpacks at Animal Traffic would suit the nomadic gypsy's wanderlust. The store had plenty to of choices on nearby walls. A bright Pendleton shawl ($38) could keep her warm, as well as over-the-knee "sweater socks." Offer the gypsy a chance to freely litter the earth with loose tulip bulbs from Pistils Nursery, which also had terrariums, rich soils and drawers of moss. Keep the gypsy's feet stylish -- though maybe not so warm -- with these 80%20 earthy wedges ($199) at Manifesto: By the end of the tour on Mississippi, there were more than enough unique gift options. Little Boxes shops were easy to find, as each posted a bright blue sticker ad on the front window. They offered just the right mix, without the hassle of long lines in the wee morning hours of Black Friday.
EYES & EDGE