Top 4 Local Holiday Markets: West Coast Edition

November 22, 2016 • 8 min read
Ahmad El-Najjar

Ahmad El-Najjar


Each year around the holidays, shoppers make spending decisions that have a long-term impact on the overall economic health of their local communities. Last year, nearly seven in ten Americans said they’d be supporting independent stores over the holidays, estimating they’d spend an average of $258 per person, or $40 billion locally.

It’s not just the indie brick-and-mortar retailers and restaurants that are making their mark. The holiday shopping season is also an opportunity to spotlight local artisans and makers at indie craft fairs. Holiday indie craft fairs offer shoppers (and some wholesalers) the unique quality of locally made goods.

Indie Craft Fairs

The hallmark of a maker is the ability to create the unique. Makers create knowing that whatever has been created by hand can never be reproduced exactly. For example, a machine can make a thousand candles that look and smell the same, while among a thousand hand-crafted candles, each and every one will be slightly different—unique.

It is this uniqueness that has made the products of this loosely affiliated community such a hit with shoppers and merchants alike. Makers offer us a chance to be a part of the unique and, in a increasingly standardized world, it’s chance that many people are jumping at.

This holiday season, if you live in a an urban area, there’s likely a makers’ holiday shopping event near you. If you’re fortunate enough to live in the Pacific Northwest or the Bay Area, the makers will be coming to you at the some of the most popular maker events, hosted by Little Boxes, Urban Craft Uprising, BadWill Holiday Market, and Plaid Friday.

Shop local in the Pacific Northwest

The Pacific Northwest might be home to giants like Microsoft, Amazon, Airbnb, Nike, Boeing, and Starbucks, but it’s also home to some of the country’s most intrepid local makers. For those looking to shop local in the Pacific Northwest, look no farther than two of the biggest events for local makers and the people who love them: Little Boxes and Urban Craft Uprising.

We were lucky to get a few minutes to speak with the very busy Kristen Rask, a lead organizer of Little Boxes and President of Urban Craft Uprising. She gave us the who, what, where, and why of these two seminal events celebrating local makers and local shopping in the Pacific Northwest.

Little Boxes Portland and Seattle

Kristen told us Little Boxes originated in Portland, Oregon, back in 2011, through the efforts of jewelry makers betsy and iya, aka Betsy Cross and her business partner (and husband) Will Cervarich. The idea behind Little Boxes was to get local store owners together and coordinate on discounts, share resources, pool funding for advertising, and donate prizes for participating shoppers. What started as a loose affiliation of around 90 Portland stores has grown to 220 participating stores in Portland and Seattle.

little boxesEvery year, people interested in shopping local in the Pacific Northwest download the Little Boxes app. Then, on Black Friday and Small Business Saturday, November 25 and 26, they make their way across their local retail landscape using an interactive map, as prizes, discounts, and raffles are unlocked throughout their shopping experience.

For Kristen, what makes Little Boxes so special is its ability to “really showcase our local stores all while educating shoppers about how they can support local. More than that, it’s about discovery, finding places you never knew were in your own neighborhood.” In other words, it’s also a chance for local stores to get their names out there and educate their communities about why local businesses are unique and integral to the neighborhood.

Urban Craft Uprising

urban craft manifesto
It’s not a revolution without a manifesto.

Urban Craft Uprising might sound a little revolutionary and, well, it actually is. It’s an organization dedicated to all things maker, artisanal, craft, and local in the Pacific Northwest.

Like other local maker events, Urban Craft Uprising was designed to “provide a unique, high quality, hand-crafted alternative to ‘big box’ stores and mass produced goods.” It started small in 2005, but the urban craft revolution gained momentum. Its Winter Show is now the largest indie craft fair in the Pacific Northwest. The Uprising has added an annual summer show and an “exclusive wholesale event,” so that the makers can connect directly with wholesale buyers.

To get some of that revolutionary spirit, we asked Kristen about her first experience with Urban Craft Uprising:

“I was a vendor at the Urban Craft Uprising the summer of 2008. I’d always loved the craft community and been a part of it myself, but 2009 really marked a turning point. It was right after 2008 when the economy took a big hit and there was a lot of uncertainty and fear. But out of that, something really cool happened—people just went for it.

People who’d maybe lost their jobs or been shaken up by the crisis saw it as an opportunity to do something completely new and be a maker. Back then, there wasn’t such a huge consciousness around supporting local, but people started to realize that if they wanted to keep their local businesses and artisans around, they were going to have to step up and spend their money to support them. In that way, Urban Craft Uprising really was an uprising of sorts.”

Over the years, Kristen has continued to support Urban Craft Uprising as an organizer, and in 2011 became president of the organization, as well as an owner of the Urban Craft Uprising store in downtown Seattle. And, the revolution just keeps spreading.

Who doesn't need a cat teepee?
Who doesn’t need a cat teepee?

Urban Craft Uprising’s winter event is just around the corner, Saturday, December 3, and Sunday December 4, at the Seattle Exhibition Hall. This year’s event will showcase over 300 vendors from all over the Pacific Northwest. Uprising organizers expect about 16,000 shopper and wholesalers, who will have a direct opportunity buy, support, and love local.

Urban Craft Uprising has become a premier maker gathering nationwide. The indie craft fair has garnered so much attention that big retailers from West Elm to Amazon have partnered with the organization in order to feature local Northwest artisans in-store and online.

If you’re wondering what Northwestern craft and maker scene has been up to in preparation for this year’s Urban Craft Uprising, take a peek!

BadWill Market

badwill marketBadWill Market is a monthly urban fair in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood that brings together a regular assortment of DIY, vintage items, music, art, clothing, jewelry—really, just about any treasure you’re looking to find.

Originally established in 2010, event producer Osiris Navarro has worked tirelessly to establish BadWill Market as a regular fixture of the love local scene. Her work has helped the event find a regular home Seattle’s Rhino Room, where both Seattleites and tourists can peruse the local wares in a festive daytime environment.

While the monthly market should definitely be on your calendar, the BadWill Holiday Market is not to be missed. This year it happens on Saturday, December 17. Shoppers can expect hot, spicy drinks, music, and local goodies galore, surrounded by indie holiday cheer.

Oakland Plaid Weekend

Not to be outdone by its neighbors to the North, Oakland is celebrating a Plaid Weekend, originally Plaid Friday. Why plaid? Organizer Kerri Johnson explained, “The name Plaid Friday was conceived from the idea of weaving the individual threads of small businesses together to create a strong fabric that celebrates the diversity and creativity of independent businesses.” It’s also a good contrast to the stress of Black Friday.

The local shopping holiday was started in 2009 by Kerri, of boutique Marion and Rose’s Workshop, which features products made right here in the U.S.A.. Kerri began with the goal of highlighting local businesses and getting them to coordinate and cross-promote each other. It’s been such a success that this year, there’s a whole weekend of local goodness, from the post-Thanksgiving Friday through Sunday.

This year over 40 local Oakland retailers and restaurants will participate in a holiday shopping adventure in the Downtown Oakland retail corridor. But that’s not all: throughout the city’s diverse neighborhoods, retailers, and community partners of Oakland Grown will also participate.

Plaid Weekend Map

Other Plaid Weekend partners include the Downtown Oakland Association, the City of Oakland, East Bay Express, and Townsquared (we made the fancy map). This year, shoppers will also be treated to live music in Latham Square, the grand opening of the brand new Owl and Wood, a sample sale at Crown Nine with all proceeds will going to Youth Radio, an after-party at VAMP on Saturday night, and free parking downtown for the entire holiday shopping season.

Coinciding with Plaid Weekend are Rockridge’s 8th Annual Rockridge in the Snow on Saturday, and a weekend-long Holiday Maker Fair at Show and Tell, a concept shop and gallery focusing on sustainable products. If you’re too stuffed with turducken to move that weekend, you’re covered: the Oakland #lovelocal festivities continue throughout the season. To name just a few: Montclair will have its 14th Annual Holiday Stroll on December 1. On December 2, Nneka’s Marketplace will have a pop-up at Jack London Square. Temescal has a Holiday Art Fair on December 4. Fruitvale launches the brand new Los sabores de Fruitvale: Un delicioso paseo (The Flavors of Fruitvale: A delicious stroll) on December 10. Also on the 10th is the Annual Holiday Gifty at The Crucible, a non-profit arts education organization.

All these events—and holiday indie craft fairs nationwide—are another chance for local businesses to outshine the big boxes. When you shop local you’re supporting your local economy by supporting what makes your community unique. Holiday shoppers have a lot of options this year, but local wins hands down.


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