Tuesday, August 26, 2014

"Bad" Language


The owner of Joie de Vivre is a WASP.  Not a particularly faithful one, but ingrained habits make it impossible for her to countenance the use of certain words at Joie de Vivre.   Unlike Harold Ross, who famously described his new new magazine, The New Yorker, as "not for the little old lady from Dubuque" Joie is designed not to make anyone uncomfortable, from children to - well, little old ladies and gentlemen from wherever.  And this has sometimes meant we've passed up things we thought were pretty funny and not offensive, just to avoid "certain words."  Bitch, if not matter of factly used to describe a female dog, would be one of the milder examples of a word we don't want on our products.  Anyway, we recently ordered 12 copies of a new book called "The Chef Says: Quotes, Quips and Words of Wisdom."  Reading through it we found two pages of rather profane wisdom.  What to do?  It's a great book and we really wanted to sell it, but didn't want someone picking it up and turning right to the offending page.  (which of course would inevitably happen!)  Anyway, we came up with a solution.  In store censoring!  We sacrificed one copy of the book, taped over the page, and wrote our own copy.  People of course buy the uncensored version - but, they will have been warned ! Problem solved !


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Yes, We Still Have a Blog

Dear blog readers, I am writing to express how guilty I feel about neglecting this blog.  I have been enjoying the short form posting so much (code for Facebook) that I haven't taken the time to think about longer posts, the kind that are better for this.  But I do intend to get back to it, if not as regularly.
Facebook is very easy and thus seductive - and if you have a quick thought to share, or just a photo, it's so easy to do it that way - and then easy for others to share, etc.  But I know I have some faithful blog readers and so I feel torn.  It's been a month since I really posted here - maybe most of you have given up by now.  Anyway, bear with us while we struggle to figure out which of the myriad ways of being in touch works best for what.  And, if you haven't checked it out - you might look at our Facebook page.  The easiest way to find it is go here and then like it - it will then be findable forever after.  Simply looking for it on Facebook seems to have its problems - and believe me, it's not easy to solve that kind of thing, because basically, directly interacting with a human being about Facebook just does not seem to be an option.  As a matter of fact, don't even get us started on the annoying idiosyncrasies of Facebook - it's the kind of thing that inspires strong emotion!  And in closing, we hope you will keep up with us one way or another - and we do promise not to completely abandon this blog.  And we also promise that future blogs will NOT be about feeling guilty about not posting !!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Not Coming Soon to Joie de Vivre!



Someone stopped by the store yesterday and left me a brochure, in hopes that I would sign up for a new service.  I took a quick look and read their rather lofty mission statement:  "To advance engagement between businesses and consumers though social, local and mobile platforms in order to bridge their digital and social lives."  (And I take it that in this context, one's social life is whatever one does when not connected to a device.)  Reading further, I quickly figured out that what they want to do is broadcast targeted deals to consumers who happen to be walking by.  As they put it - we currently lack up to date data tracking methods - they will track and "touch" our customers.  This is a concept that manages to be both incredibly offensive and very amusing to us here.  As someone who lives in the "social" more than the "digital" world, I can think of nothing worse than to have my telephone start announcing deals every time I walk by a store.  And as a generalized retailer of Joie - it makes me wonder, what, exactly, would we be targeting here?  Enticing a customer with a sale on the plastic wind up mouse? Magic Eight Balls - 20% off for the next three minutes?   They also state that their company, Howler, "makes everyday life more convenient for both retailer and buyer."  (And they give their announcements the unfortunate name of "howls.")  Sorry - but we beg to differ.  More annoying, more intrusive, more expensive (for the retailer anyway), more big-brother is watching you like -yes to all those, but more convenient?  Do we really have to move toward a life where every device we own will be trying to get us to spend money all the time - life as one big non stop advertisement?   Count us out.  But, we'll just do a little mini targeting to you blog readers right now - come on in and see us anytime for a little joie de vivre!  

Thursday, July 10, 2014

WonderfulTerrible


Sometimes a product is so great in so many ways - and difficult in others. Maybe it's super difficult to put together, or is ridiculously over packaged - or requires some esoteric battery that costs more than the item itself.  Many times this kind of drawback keeps us from ordering a great thing,  or from reordering something that we otherwise loved.  The pigeon and squirrel masks above and below are a perfect case in point.  First and foremost, they look incredibly funny on.  It's really a little hard to put into words, but if you come into the store, we will be happy to show you just how funny.  They're also oddly great on young kids - so out of proportion, yet somehow perfect.  But, they do have a problem or two.  They're not the most comfortable thing in the world to wear for more than a few minutes - but hey, most of us have suffered before to look good in our lives so we can overlook that one.  The bigger problem is they have the oddest smell when they are released from their packaging.  Intensely industrially plastic-y - last time we got a batch, I took them all home and aired them out on my porch overnight - and the odor still lingered.  It does eventually go away - but our back room is a small space, and it's a bit of a challenge to share space with them until that happens.  They are just too good!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Singing Pickles, Cat Paws and Kaleidoscopes: Thirty Years of Joie de Vivre

Warning - this is a bit of a read !  It's something I wrote up for our 30th birthday - which was yesterday.  And thanks to all who stopped by say hey and eat cake and have some bubbly with us - it was a really nice celebration and great to see you all.  Without further ado - my piece:

Singing Pickles, Cat Paws, Kaleidoscopes:  
Reflections on Thirty Years of Joie de Vivre.

     When I initially conceived of opening a small shop, the idea that it might become a life's work of sorts never occurred to me.  Besides eating peanut butter sandwiches, attending public school and breathing, there was nothing I had done for even remotely close to that long.  And today, at age 62, it seems doubtful that any new venture I might dream up would last anywhere near thirty years - I'll count myself lucky if I do. Retail Herectic, or a Thousand Singing Hamsters, my planned book about the store, an idea conceived while taking my first memoir class and observing how the pieces I wrote about Joie engaged my fellow classmates, has yet to be finished.  In the meantime, I thought it would be interesting to take a look back, and write a bit about being in business all these years.
     The passage of time inevitably brings change, and to be in business this long is to experience a lot of it.  The makeup of our neighborhood is one.  When we first opened, it was rent controlled, inhabited by a lively mix of students, artists, and old time Cantabrigians. It was a little dingier as landlords had little incentive to fix up their properties.  We had an actual beat cop who walked the street, and would stop in to chat.  It's much prettier, and much more quiet these days. Neighborhoods have lives - they constantly grow and change. 
     Thirty years is also a long time in any one person's life.  While I'm thrilled to report that people in their late twenties/early thirties have come in with small children and told me Joie was their favorite store as a child (!!) - I'm sad to note that there are customers who have eventually - disappeared. People who were 60 when I opened would be 90 now, and if they're still around, they generally aren't out and about shopping.  There was one couple who came in every Christmas to shop.  They lived out of town and always made a day of it, buying lots of presents, going to lunch next door.  I knew all about their families, and I watched as every year they became a little more creaky - and a little bit cranky.  Then, they never came again.  
     Of course we lose customers who move as well - though our (another change) website helps some of them keep in touch.  And it's funny - people will come in and say, "I haven't been here in such a long time - I moved."  When I ask where to the answer is just as likely to be Jamaica Plain or Central Square as it is London or California.  We have customers who now live far away that we see almost as often as some of our busy in-town gang.  Happily, one thing has definitely stayed the same - the wonderful mix of people walking in the door - from young kids to grandparents, lots of students, visitors from all over the world - the people who come in are and always have been and still what makes our working day interesting.  And speaking of customers - you can always count on the youngest ones to say the greatest things - just recently, a four year old girl described one of our toys as "it looks like a bubble and a jellyfish had a baby!"
      Another change:  the mix of stores in the neighborhood.  We sometimes play a game called  "list all the stores that have been on this block in the last thirty years."  Four of us have been here the entire time, while so many others have come and gone that it's hard to remember them all.  We had a frame shop, a flower store, a new age store, a gypsy clothing store, an Italian ceramic store, and a candy shop, just to name a few on this block, including that first Indian restaurant, where I learned to love shrimp biriyani and chicken tikka masala.  (Now there are many many more fine dining establishments and general restaurants than there were in the past - not good for the wallet or waistline - but - yum!)  A few blocks away there were antique stores (where I purchased the dining room table I'm typing this on), a real witch store, Irwin's old fashioned toy shop, a fabric store, a discount clothing store, a beautiful children's clothing store and there were two small drugstores in the neighborhood.  Back then, "drugstores" did not sell English muffins, toys and everything under the sun either, just candy bars, newspapers, bandaids, aspirin and the like. 
     So yet another change - the beginning of the end of the specialized store.  We do still have shoe stores, or a store that sells only jewelry, but the "impulse item" is now found everywhere; the hardware store, the drug store, the bookstore. They have all added gifts over the years in the struggle to survive the giant chains and Amazon.com.  Joie de Vivre has not done the opposite though - no garbage bags or potato chips found here - or not yet, anyway. Our only bandaids look like bacon or have Shakespeare quotes.  But we've gotten some pretty odd requests over the years - pizza, harem pants, saxophones, etc. I think this all reflects the biggest change in retail - the arrival of the on line shopping world.  Our devices have made it incredibly easy to buy pretty much anything from the comfort of home - and many people have found that to be their preferred way to shop. Especially since somehow, we all seem to suffer from the “busy disease” today much more than was common years ago.
     I’ve thought about this a fair amount and I can honestly say that in my personal life, technology has had little to no effect on my own happiness, or really improved my life in any significant way. But it has brought both good and bad changes for the store. A good one?  Back in the "old days" we used to have to call Master Card or Visa to authorize every sale over $20; read the card number, get a code, enter it.  It was time consuming, especially on a busy day.  Now this happens quietly and instantly with a swipe of the card through our own little terminal. However, charge sales were a much smaller part of our business too - cash and checks were still in common use. But today we give many thousands of dollars a year to Master Card, Visa and American Express, and people pull out a credit card to buy a couple of postcards; the cashless society is close!  And who really profits?  No surprise there - big corporations. 
     Then there's email - which has certainly made communication with Europe easier.  It used to be so expensive to call  - (I will always remember my $85 phone call to Denmark to deal with some xylophone problem!)  Letters took a week or more. So email is a definite plus for that.  But then, email has made communication with everyone much easier - a mixed blessing at times.  Companies who used to mail the occasional informative update didn't do it too often when they had to pay for postage and printing - now they can send you ten email blasts a week - with nothing much to say.  And they do it.  My email in box at Joie is now often filled with emails I don't really need to see.  And that same problem affects our customers, some of whom have requested to be taken off the email list we use just once a month - because they simply get too many emails.  
     Email also hastened the demise of the ringing telephone.  Thirty years ago we didn't even have a fax machine, let alone a computer, and the telephone was our lifeline.  I often placed orders over the phone and it was nice, I got to know in some small way the person on the other end of the line. Who typically remembered me because of our unusual name, one they were often afraid to try to say out loud. In our early years, the phone rang constantly - sometimes too constantly.  But I kind of miss it now that on the increasingly rare occasion that it does ring - it's most frequently either a robot - or a robotic sounding call center human. Now everyone carries their telephones with them, and I think that effects us here more than any other thing.
     People often walk into the store now, looking down at their phones.  Sometimes I feel like I'm not really here, sitting at the desk. In the beginning of the cell phone era, we heard everything from mind-numbingly mundane conversations to excruciatingly inappropriate intense discussions. Today people are mostly texting, not talking, so for all we know they might be checking the price of a given item on Amazon.  (soon, with the help of the new Amazon phone, they will be able to do that in seconds). And I find that people find it much more difficult to make decisions when they have a phone.  They feel they should call someone, as opposed to taking a risk on something they think someone else would like.  Call it shopping by crowdsourcing.  But they are much less likely to want our input, which is kind of what we used to specialize in. We don't really enjoy competing with a hand held device!  But though we occasionally feel superfluous, we still do have customers who come in looking for something for a 60th birthday, a 12 year old boy, or their "awful brother-in-law."  Or they need a camel item, or a hedgehog, or even mermaid tears (yes, we came up with something!) - and ask us to help - that is what we are here for, and what we love to do - help!
     To conclude my technology discussion on an upbeat "note" - I will say that for listening to music it has improved life at Joie de Vivre 100%!  Pandora and internet radio allows us to have a hundred radio stations of our own devising, and to switch between them at the drop of a hat - well - to be more accurate, the click of an ipod.  We used to get so tired of our CDs - now we can have a hundred stations and when an inappropriate or disliked song comes on - one touch and it's gone. This has really made a huge difference to our daily in store happiness.  
     Anyway, these are just somewhat random thoughts that I've put on paper for our 30th.  I could write more, but I'm resolved to have mercy on the reading public, as well as to actually have something to put on the table, so to speak. And maybe entice you to read the whole story if I ever finish it.  So finally, to conclude this piece, I would like to say that the things I love most about this business are exactly the same as they were 30 years ago.  Actually, now that I think of it, so are some of the items we sell, for example the dancing ballerina, the magic garden or the penguin race. But I love discovering the new items too - going to gift shows without the slightest idea what I will find.  Who really expects the yodeling pickle or the rapping hamster - or the handblown glass jellyfish or the elegant rubber chicken handbag?  I love the relationships I've made with my vendors and have wound up calling some of them very good friends.  Unlike some buyers I know who complain about the time and trouble involved, I love going to shows.  And I love the other side of the business just as much. I love showing what I've found to our customers - and introducing them to things they didn't know existed.  It's a lot of fun, and incredibly rewarding and many customers and staff have become lifelong (I hope!) friends.
     I stumbled into this business in a sense, and feel I was lucky that I found something that really worked for me.  I’ve gotten to share my enthusiasms with a wide range of people, from my love of kaleidoscopes, to the slightly surreal cat paw, to the classic wind up jumping mouse.  I've won awards, and I've been on television  (in Japan as well as here!)  And my personal joie seems to have resonated with many others as well - you who have made it possible for this business to both thrive - and then in a difficult environment, survive. So, I will end these reflections with love and appreciation for all of you - staff, suppliers, and customers, friends, and family too, who have been an essential part of putting the Joie into Joie de Vivre.  

                               Thank you, thank you, thank you!






Friday, June 27, 2014

Joie de Vivre is now on . . .

Dear faithful blog readers,  We have finally capitulated and put Joie de Vivre up on Facebook.  I had a lot of resistance to doing this which has gradually been eroding as I thought of short little things to say that seemed - too short for this blog.  Or pictures I wanted to post, etc.  So, to mark our 30th birthday - tomorrow, June 28th - we now have a Facebook page.  What finally made me decide to do it was a conversation I had with my dear friend Stuart.  I was asking him if he thought Joie should be on Facebook, and he said absolutely!  He told me that he thought of a blog as a dinner party with good friends - thoughtful conversation on a range of subjects - and described Facebook as more of a cocktail party - where you're chatting with friends and aquaintances - or making new ones.  Suddenly I decided - I want to have a cocktail party and a dinner party!  So - Facebook will be for shorter announcements and thoughts - and the blog will be here for the long form - at least for now - we'll see how it goes. I will also to the blogposts through the FB page.  And my next post on this blog, tomorrow morning, will be a piece I wrote about being in business for 30 years - it's decidedly long form - hope you enjoy it - or, you can also pick up a paper copy at Joie de Vivre if you prefer.  Sincerely, your devoted blogger, Joie de Blog !

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Two Faces Of Joie - or Both Sides Now!

Last Sunday a youngish man wandered into the store.  If anyone else was there when he entered, they left soon after so he was alone with me.  When I eventually told him to let me know if he had any questions or needed my assistance, he said he had recently moved to the area and was just browsing; out and about on a beautiful afternoon.  I told him what I tell everyone, that we are happy to interact with browsers - we don't only want to talk to people who express an intention to buy something.  Then, I went back to whatever I was doing, and he kept looking around - for quite awhile, actually. We spoke occasionally. After he had been there for maybe an hour, he started to pick up some items and make a little pile at the desk.  Then other customers started coming in and within minutes, all the sound machines seemed to be going, the pickle was yodeling, perhaps the penguin race was on.  As he prepared to check out I told him he had really seen the store in each extreme - quiet and peaceful, and cheerfully, noisily chaotic!  It's really true - the atmosphere here can go from zero to 60 very quickly.  Luckily, he seemed to tolerate both - as do we all.  Okay - if not all - I have seen people quite unnerved by being the only customer - and I have seen people walk out when it gets too lively. (aka noisy).  Anyway, I thought he had received quite the perfect introduction to Joie!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Blast From the Past Two!

My first business card . . .  the one that got me in trouble at the gift show with its tag line . . . and note the emergency stamped address - this was because the previous tenant - the infamous Frank Fox - refused to vacate the premises on May 1st so I couldn't get in.  My own calligraphy - and at the time - I thought the card sophisticated!


Thursday, June 12, 2014

Our first advertisements - 30 Years Ago ! ! !

So . ..  looking through some old folders, looking for I don't even remember what, I found a few advertisements that I made for the store the first years we opened.  It was well before the days of computers making images and design  a little easier  - and the rubber-stamps we sold and my calligraphy pen came in very handy.  Actually, I think the one above might have used a very early computer to print out the type?  But the bottom is from the very first year or two.  They look so impossibly quaint and old fashioned to me now, but I was proud of them then.  Guess that's the way things go - or the way they evolve.  I remember a friend who was a puppet maker - I had bought a puppet from her the first year she was in business and several years later she visited and was quite distraught to see her early effort.  She really really wanted to take it away and replace it with a new one, but I wouldn't let her - I was very fond of that early puppet.  And I guess I kind of feel the same about these early ads - they're not what i would do now (see last ad for comparison) but - I still like them!  



Saturday, June 7, 2014

Joie a la Kafka

At the end of every day we close out our charge machine and Eleavon, our processor, then sends the money to our bank.  The settling process is very easy - you punch in "settle" - it gives you the amount in the machine;  you say "yes" for correct and it's on its way.  It's the simplest system we've used in thirty years and we have had it for about five years with not a single problem.  Until last night.  The machine gave me the total as usual - and when I hit "yes" it hesitated, then said it did not agree.  I recounted the slips - the total was correct.  I tried it again a few times as I'm optimistic that way but always got the same message. I then called their customer service line, anticipating an easy resolution.  An hour and a half  - an hour and a half - later, I hung up, after talking my way through various increasingly high level supervisors who could not tell me why they had no record of a $300 charge on their end.  I pointed out (many times) that they had given me an authorization number for that amount and that I had the slip to prove it.  At one point someone said "an authorization number is not a guarentee that a sale will go through."  And sadly, at that point, I did use just one curse word to inquire why the F we bothered to authorize anything in that case.  At the end of the hour and a half they were admitting  that this "virtually never" happens and agreeing to credit us the amount we were due.  And I left the store with a little less sanity than I had when I entered that morning.  Though I don't think I'm permanently damaged, it was a truly strange experience !!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Which item has been on display?

We realize this is a difficult question - but we think you'll be able to figure it out !  These are our "Brawny Brawlers - you smush them together and as they slowly unstick, they look eerily alive - like they're in a serious wrestling match "for reals".  We find them kind of mesmerizing and impossible to stop playing with, hence the need to occasionally break out a new display - eventually they will lose the stickiness that makes them so alluring.
Plus, they sort of change race.  Anyway, we found the difference rather striking and wanted to share!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

My New Favorite Card

I'm kind of in love with a birthday card.  It's an unassuming little card, no glitter, not flashy, but it has completely won my heart.  I ordered it from a new company at the Stationary Show - we got a dozen different styles of cards from them, and this one just gets me.  It's exterior has a small drawing of the world, and the wording "If you could have ANYTHING in the world for your birthday, what would it be?"  Of course, you think for a moment before you open it.   Then you open it up and inside it simply says "Please say a card, please say a card . . ."   I don't know why it strikes me so funny but everytime I walk by the birthday card rack and see it sitting there, I both have to smile, and I feel a wave of an almost weird protectiveness towards the earnest little card. I want those who open it to think yes - this is the best possible thing, this very card!  Is this a sign that I've been in this business too long?  Anthropomorphizing birthday cards?   I don't know - but I do know I didn't order enough of them.  I'll be wanting to send them to everyone I know - or everyone I know who doesn't regularly read this blog. And so far, just this morning we've sold a few too, so I'm not alone.  Please say a card, please say a card, please say a card!  And in other exciting news - though I doubt any of them will get their own blog entry, I found quite a few good new cards at the Show.