Good things in small packages

blackpresentLife lessons occasionally come in neatly tied packages. Once, a group of mostly sweet 7-year-old girls gathered for a holiday gift party. They set all their prettily wrapped-and-ribboned presents under a tree while they exchanged pleasantries and sipped juice from china teacups. They patted cookie crumbs from the corners of their mouths with real cloth napkins. I believe pinkies were raised.

It was lovely. But when the mom in charge announced it was time to choose a gift, decorum was ditched faster than you can say Ms. Manners. Paper flew. Ribbons ripped. There were squeals of delight and groans of disappointment. One kid, stunned by the Jekyll/Hyde turn of events, stood in the corner fighting back tears.

“There’s nothing left,” she said.

A quick glance around seemed to prove her right. The mom asked if anyone had, perhaps, forgotten to bring a gift? No. Had anyone “accidentally” opened two gifts? No. Finally, one of the girls noticed, hidden beneath discarded papers and ribbons, a tiny box.

The teary kid opened it.

“A genuine rhinestone ring!” she gushed reading the label. “Genuine means it’s real!”

The mom laughed and said, all Aesop-wise, “Good things come in small packages.”

It’s still true.

Consider Little Boxes. The two-day shopping event (Nov. 23-24) celebrates small, independently owned shops scattered around Portland. More than 150 retailers have joined forces to draw attention to alternative venues. They’re offering discounts and raffle tickets for prizes on the Friday and Saturday following Thanksgiving. You can find a list of shops by neighborhood on the site and additional information on their Facebook page

I’ve watched and written about the retail scene for many years, and know that what is happening in Portland is rare and wonderful. Most cities feel like giant roofless shopping malls with the same chain stores on every corner. I’ve got nothing against long chains or big boxes. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t shop at them. And I’m not embarrassed to admit that there are times when I find browsing aisles and aisles of random stuff weirdly therapeutic. But it’s the thoughtfully selected, creatively displayed, and personal stories shared by the independent merchants that delight and surprise me.

Good merchants create a kind of 3-D story that I want to wander through and discover. They offer a point of view worth sharing. They know where the things they sell come from and why they are wonderful. It can be a crowded home store that feels like a hoarder granny’s attic, or an ultra chic shop that presents each item as if it were an exquisite art treasure. I like ones filled with limited edition goods handmade by creative spirits, and ones that present interesting mass-market items I might otherwise miss.

Good things come in small packages, and just might create genuine rhinestone memories to last a lifetime.

Trust me.

Vivian McInerny is managing editor of Oregon Home.