Dear Blog Readers,
We have become the kind of blogger we never wanted to be — the kind who has a "read our blog" button on our website but the newest post is months old. We blame Facebook for this — it's so much easier to write something there and we seem to have more followers there than we did here on the blog. Still, we can't quite bring ourselves to give it up altogether yet — so instead, we're posting this little note to explain our lack of current entries. Please do check out our facebook page, we think it's fun, if not quite as long form.
sincerely, the Joie de Blogger.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year from Disco Buddha

We won this Buddha in a raffle at the New York Gift Show . . . . entered under slight duress, but threw in our card, and were rather surprised to have him show up a few months later. We've become quite attached to the way he reflects light, and he's been gracing the blogger's living room for the last month or so. When the light hits him during the day it's really amazing. We decided to go for a change of pace for our New Year's window - simple and silver - so stop by and admire him for yourself - he'll be here for the next few weeks. And we wish a happy, healthy, fun, and satisfying 2013 to all. May we all come through the inevitable challenges with our spirits, hearts, and joie intact!

Monday, December 24, 2012

I Don't Have to Work Tomorrow?

The Joie blogger is quite excited that - tomorrow will be her first day off in - six weeks! Plans definitely include sleeping a bit later than usual (no really young children involved in this particular celebration!) It's been the usual crazy whirlwind . . . and we've enjoyed seeing many of our customers who, like Christmas, come but once a year. (and "we" would like to acknowledge that we're aware that we shift somewhat often and somewhat erractically between "she" "I" and "we" when writing this blog - tonight, we plead fatigue!) (And, said blogger would also like to acknowledge that it might be possible to work less during this season and that working every day has become a habit that is difficult but could be possible to break.) Despite the grueling hours, we enjoyed a lot of things about the season - our wonderful customers, the wonderful people who return to work for just a few weeks in December, the wonderful people who work throughout the year . . . . and now, the wonderful opportunity to do nothing more than relax and be with family tomorrow. Thank you to all for making our existence possible, and "we" wish you all a happy and relaxing holiday tomorrow !

Monday, December 17, 2012

Midnight Madness !

The Joie blogger is tired - because the Joie blogger has not gotten much sleep in the last few days. Our extended December hours and last weekend's Midnight Madness are to blame! We had a tradition with our beloved neighborhood store, Susanna, of hosting a little holiday party for employees and a few friends a week or so before Christmas that many years ago morphed into the idea of having a shopping party and inviting customers to shop - with wine, cookies and a more festive atmosphere than the typical crowded Saturday day - until midnight. Louder music, slap happy staff, and also a guest appearance by our one night a year much loved helper, Joe D! None of us remembers exactly how long ago this started, but it's been well over 15 years now. And we have some regular late night shoppers who show up faithfully every year. But by the time we get to bed, it's quite late . .. and then we get up and do it again - so. .. let's just say we are looking forward to sleeping in on Christmas Day! And, perhaps we will see you in the last, mad, week before that happy day.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Joie . . . de Foie? ?

It's the busy holiday season, and we feel like we have about twenty more things to do than we can possibly do - every single hour. Naturally, this kind of chaos can result in mistakes; the incorrectly added sales slip, the invoice that winds up in the trash instead of the "to be paid" file, the item left out of a bag, the forgotten phone call - etc! The last few years, due to our website, we've also had a lot more internet sales to keep track of. This evening I got a call from a gentleman with a heavy French accent. He said he was having trouble with his computer, had placed an order with us, and wanted to know if we had shipped it, as he was unable to check online. I took his name, and asked him what the item he had ordered was. "A case of foie gras," he began, and I instantly realized, much to my relief, that we were innocent of all charges. There is a French food and housewares catalogue called Joie de Vivre, and people often find us when looking for them, because we are That name taken, they took but we are the first Joie de Vivre found when googling. I explained to the gentleman that he had the wrong Joie. "Well, can you give me their phone number?" he asked, "my computer is not working." I suggested perhaps he had a friend or acquaintance with a computer? He seemed a bit put out that we were not the Joie he wanted and I mentioned that I didn't even approve of foie gras. "I know, I know," he told me. "But I'm French," he continued, "and we eat everything." We said our goodbyes, and maybe twenty minutes later the phone rang. Someone else picked it up and I heard her telling someone - presumably the friend of said gentleman - to trying googling And so it goes. At least it wasn't our mistake. And, just to reassure you all, we will do anything to fix a mistake, never fear!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Eiffel Towers ! ! Lots of Them ! !

We get these beautiful Austrian snowglobes every year for Christmas, but some of them are not overtly Christmasy, like this beautiful Eiffel Tower. We ran out of them last year in February, and spent the last 10 months trying to get more. It's true they can't ship them from Austria when it's cold, because if the water freezes - the glass breaks. But once April rolled around we thought they would arrive soon, and so did the customers who had ordered them off our website. (Evidently we are the only store in the whole United States who sells them - or so you would think!) Anyway, the distributor thought she could get them for us by May . . . . then June . .. then August .. .then October. The special orders piled up and it started to seem like an episode of the Twilight Zone - the distributor, who had been working with the company for years, could get no response from them, no reason why they would not ship her the globes. It was very very frustrating for all concerned; the customers who wanted them, we Joie de Vivre denizens, our poor distributor who received several anguished emails from us . . . but - today was the red letter day. They arrived, and are already winging their way to homes across the country from New Orleans to Nebraska to California and more. We were happy enough to break out the fake champagne (not so "joie de vive" but we had a lot of work to do) So all is good- though there is this little question in the back of our minds . . . is this going to happen again next year?

Monday, December 3, 2012

It's Crazy Making Time !

Keeping track of inventory and staffing during December is - just plain a challenge. One day it's crazy busy and we need at least four people to carry on, then the next day is suddenly dead and two are more than enough. But - you never know - so how many people do you ask to work? And, we ordered six porcelain Rob Ryan plates last apring. They weren't expensive - $24 - but exactly one sold in the first six months of their life here at Joie. Needless to say, we did not reorder them. Then, yesterday, someone bought the remaining five. The law of retail says that soon, someone will come in and be desperately disappointed that we have no stock. Or - you call a company to get 6 dozen more of something that's been selling well and they say - oh that's discontinued. Or, as happened to us recently, the company, who had a giant booth at the New York Toy Fair this very year, has just gone out of business. They have a message on their answering machine saying leave a message, we'll call you back - but they don't, and their emails bounce back, and their website is gone - it's enough to make a retailer crazy! But - we've survived 28 years of this - we have a feeling we'll survive Christmas #29 at Joie de Vivre as well!

Friday, November 30, 2012

Context is Everything

In most job situations, if an employee said "I found an arm" it would be cause for horror, fainting, calls to the police. Here at Joie de Vivre, such statements are received with a laugh and a "Oh, I think I know where that came from" - fill in the blank - the Marilyn Monroe magnetic paperdoll, the wind-up frog, the light up Santa Claus . .. the possibilities go on and on ! And just this very second, in a very cosmic twist - we have received a Waving Jubilee Queen of England - sans one arm !

Friday, November 23, 2012

Notes on Black Friday

The Joie de Vivre blogger feels that this whole Black Friday thing is getting seriously out of control. We noticed this year for the first time some of our suppliers websites - those with a retail arm - participating in some way with sales and promotions. And we noticed a chain store in Harvard Square offering 50% off ALL their merchandise the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, as well as Black Friday. This strikes us as a race to the bottom - which doesn't bode well for anyone. More sales and constant promotions, lower and lower prices - equals no profit for businesses already struggling to make ends meet. And we're honestly a little offended by American Express promoting "Small Business Saturday" - because far from supporting small business, they take a much higher percentage from small businesses than large ones, and a higher percentage than Mastercard and Visa. And because we believe in shopping small stores all the time, not just one day a year - as do most of our customers - for whom we gave sincere thanks yesterday before the Thanksgiving meal. A meal we did not exit early in order to shop! The day after Thanksgiving has been the traditional start of the holiday shopping season, albeit without sales, for years - the blogger, who has been in retail on and off since high school days remembers well. We believe the name Black Friday originated in the idea that that particular day was the day that put businesses into the black. But it's starting to seem more like the black death to us . . . . anyway, we apologize for the seriousness of this post, but after seeing a Youtube clip of people physically fighting over smart phones at Walmart, we felt impelled to comment. To end on a happier note, we hope our blog readers all had a wonderful Thanksgiving, and we hope to see you soon at Joie de Vivre, where it's small business day every day of the year!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Mini Con-Artists !

The other afternoon we were standing around the desk - three of us, one customer, chatting about something, when a boy entered. He looked like your typical middle class kid, and was probably 11 or 12. He approached us, and asked if we had 85 cents which he needed for bus money. We were surprised. I, cynically, instantly thought of all the people on the street who had asked me for some exact amount of change that they needed to get the train home - especially the guy who after I gave him the money, headed off in the opposite direction of where he said he was going. We all looked at the kid for a bit, and one of us asked "well, what happened to your money?" I happened to be standing facing the street and noticed a taller boy looking into Joie intently and a bit impatiently - somehow I felt he was an accomplice. "Where do you live?" I inquired. The kid gave an address maybe ten blocks away. It was a perfectly nice day, so "Why don't you just walk?" was my next question, and he blushed, stammered a bit, and exited the store. We think they were junior con-artists, just trying it out. Would have liked to have followed them at a discreet distance to see what happened next but . . . got back to work instead!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

No !

One of our most popular items for the last year is our No! button. It says "no!" in ten different voices and is kind of irresistible. We generally order them in batches of 3 dozen, and just unpacked a box yesterday. Last night, I was working at my desk, when I heard a voice coming faintly from the stockroom. "No!" it said, albeit in a rather muffled way. There was a pause - then I heard it again. It would stop for awhile, then start up again and soon I found myself standing in front of the 36 boxes, realizing that it's actually quite difficult to tell which box a sound is coming from. I picked up 6 boxes and then heard a "NO!" that clearly did not come from a box in my hand. So - that was the way to do it. I set them aside and waited. All was quiet. After waiting awhile I walked back to my desk - but of course it started up again. Went back but still did not find the culprit and it quieted down again. I left for the night, but when I sat down this morning, I heard it again. This time I found it and brought it to my desk where I decided to see how long it would be before it drove me crazy. Turns out - not long at all - soon I had to get my screwdriver and dismantle it. And a relative peace fell once again in the backroom of Joie de Vivre ! Will it last? Probably - no!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Election is Over ! !

As you blog readers will know, we had a Halloween window featuring our two main Presidential hopefuls, dressed as Superman and Dracula. We took it out on November 1st - as partisan as we are, we didn't think it was appropriate for the actual election, but we kept the stand-up guys in the back of the store, thinking we could do something with Obama if he won. And - win he did ! He's back on the floor and we've been photographing customers with him all day. And Romney . . . we will remove his Dracula cape and he will be consigned to the cardboard dumpster of history . . . it sounds bad, we know, but it's probably the most dignified thing we can do - don't want to give the figure away and have him end up as a dartboard or anything . . .

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Blog Apology

Joie de Blog would like to apologize for not posting anything new this week . . . . between being glued to media for Hurricane Sandy coverage, and feeling anxiety about the election results on Tuesday, Joie just hasn't been thinking blog. Up here in our part of the world, damage from the hurricane was minimal - some downed trees, some power outages. But everyday we are reminded of just how major this storm was. Many of the companies we order from are based in Manhattan, and most of them are not up and running after a week. So, for instance, we're running out of our wonderful new Safari book, but Workman's phones are still not working. And we need a postcard order, but ditto for Fotofolio. It's interesting how when a "weather event" doesn't really hit your part of the world, and things return quickly to normal, how easy it is to forget that life is far from back to normal for everyone. As for the election - that's a whole other kettle of fish . . . and we'll no doubt have something to say about that soon. To be honest, we're hoping we can resurrect the Superman part of our Halloween window for a few days . . . . we'll see . . . . .

Monday, October 29, 2012

To Open or Not to Open

That - is the question! Whether it is better - I mean, nobler - to suffer the winds and rains - I mean, slings and arrows - of outrageous circumstance . . . in this case, Hurricane Sandy . . or by opposing them - opening the store? - and here, our analogy breaks down. In any case, it's always hard to decide what to do under extreme weather threats. Sometimes the City of Cambridge mandates closure, making it easy. Sometimes things are a little more fuzzy - and this morning we're really not sure what to do. So . . . we'll open for awhile. Be there for the UPS delivery and any brave morning customers. And then - we'll see. At the very least we'll be able to put a sign on the door if we decide to close. We hope all you blog readers stay dry and electrified until this passes!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Joie Gets Political

So . . . one of our customers who is a school principal ordered some Obama and Romney standups to use in the school mock election process, and we decided to order some extra and use them as a Halloween window. Why not? Our first thought was to have them dress up as each other - but it didn't have much oomph. Then we thought Romney could be a hippie, but somehow, while searching for costume parts, he wound up as Dracula. We were having a hard time deciding what to do with Obama, and then we thought Superhero of some sort - so he wound up as Superman. Just after installing the window, a passerby banged on the window, pointed at the display, and gave it a thumbs down, which caused us to spend an entire evening agonizing over whether it was too political, disrespectful, etc. But the next day brought nothing but laughter, compliments, and a seemingly endless stream of people taking pictures with their phones. So, we have relaxed about the whole thing. We just meant it to be fun . . . we really don't think of Romney as a blood sucking vampire . . . or not often . . . and we also don't think of Obama as Superman . . . not after the last four years. And we'll take it down right after Halloween and be as respectful as possible for the week before the election !

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Mini Slinky + Artist =

Sometimes the smallest, least expensive things can wind up being kind of amazing - you just need an artist to take you there. Like the little mini slinkies we sell for all of $1.50 - they're cute, kids like them . . . . and then, someone buys one and sends you a picture like this, and you think - wow . . . . that's beautiful, and a tiny unassuming object is transformed into something quite glorious. Thank you SF !!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Just Like Bob Dylan Said . .

Well, he said the times are changing - as you'll notice here - it's our blog that has changed - visually, and our website as well. It's an interesting phenomena how this happens. When we first designed the website and blog we were absolutely crazy about how it looked, and remained so for a good two or three years. The green backround matched the green we had used on the walls in the store and our bags, and the logo with the duck in the big V was new for us. And then, one day - we decided to go with a light grey bag. And then, slowly, a kind of discontent crept in. The next thing you know we were wondering what the website would look like with a grey backround . . . and the next thing, our designer had come up with an entirely different page for both the blog and the website. We tinkered with it for awhile - and now it's up. The king is dead - long live the king! As soon as we decided we would go with the new look, the old look looked dreadfully dated to us. That's the interesting thing - how something you love so much can suddenly seem so not what you want. Anyway, we hope you like our new look - (and it's sure to remain for at least a few years!)

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Cute and Bizarr !

So . . . we have this cute postcard, pictured above, in our rack, and the other day, an employee came up to me and said - "Do you know what this postcard says??" I looked at it - as far as I could tell it didn't say anything. "What it says?" I asked. She looked at me quizzically and told me that it said something that we might not actually approve of. I grabbed my reading glasses and looked hard at the little picture on the wall. Even with glasses, it was hard for me to make out - but after trying a minute, I could read what the framed embroidery said. And it clearly said: "go f--- yourself" !! Whoops! Not what I would expect on a cute postcard of a bunny and a bear, even though the company that printed it is called Bizarr. And probably not something I would have ordered had I known - but I comfort myself by hoping that no one else will really notice it either. Such are the perils of poor vision.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Memory Lane

I just took a little unexpected trip down Memory Lane. I was cleaning out my basement and came across some boxes of old invoices from the store. I picked one from 1998 - almost fifteen years ago, and decided to look through it to see some of the things we were selling that year. First surprise - many things that we are still selling today - we're nothing if not loyal to our products. Bu of course, many things I had forgotten - the Pop-up New York Story, the Dinobitz bottle opener . . . . the giggling Mona Lisa pillow . . . the punching nun, and the nervous hamster. (that was a great toy - a cute little plush hamster, you pulled a string and he jittered/ran a circle on the desk.) The Japanese animated clown music boxes - we had lots of them (and just the other day a woman came in looking for one - our customers are loyal to our products as well) And rubber stamps - we were still selling lots of those. So many companies I had forgotten, so many items - made me wonder why I didn't keep a yearly list of our favorite things from the year. I guess, because you don't think you'll ever forget anything - until you do. And after 28 years, I'm afraid I've forgotten more than I remember of the many fun things that have passed through our door. But - there are a more boxes down there - and I plan to investigate - maybe I'll start a little blast from the past feature on the website or this blog !

Monday, September 24, 2012

Sometimes Ignorance Really is Bliss !

A slight young woman, probably in her early 20s, came into Joie yesterday with her boyfriend. She looked at our wonderful Coral and Tusk pillows, asked if we had any more and when I brought some out, said she would take at least a few of them - could I set them aside while she continued looking? This was noteable as these pillows are not inexpensive. She continued around, we had other customers, I was kind of curious about her and as she added to her pile, I wondered if she was some young singer I didn't know. At one point as I helped other customers, I saw a couple of women her age approach her diffidently, and begin "I'm sorry to bother you but -" compliments ensuing. Okay, she must be a bit well known. I heard the word "movie." Finally, she finished shopping, ending up with a small pile of things that amounted to as much as I would expect to make for the whole Sunday. She pulled out her credit card and I looked at the name. Of course. I had even seen her, albeit when she was younger, in a few movies myself. I was glad I hadn't realized, because I was able to be completely normal and myself throughout our whole interaction. It did remind me of a time when I (during a past life as a woodworker's girlfriend) had been exhibiting at a craft fair in Manhattan. Early in the day, when there were not yet many shoppers, a rumor rushed through the building "Dustin Hoffman is here!" Many people took off to find him, including my boyfriend who left me alone in the booth. Suddenly, Dustin Hoffman entered my booth! It was just me and him and I instantly my heart was pounding, my face reddened, my tongue tied, and I was certainly not my "normal self." And it was fascinating how the proximity of a celebrity I thought was great had such an immediate and dramatic effect on me. I felt like a total fool. He lingered just long enough for me to finally decide it might be time to say something like "if you have any questions about anything, just let me know". I was ready to say it, my mouth was opening, when he suddenly turned and walked out of the booth. Oh well. In any case, my encounter today was much more pleasant because - I was blissfully unaware.

Thursday, September 20, 2012


On reflection (so to speak, that's me relecting in the poster) we probably should have posted this yesterday so you could have come down and met our artist Leah Miller. The Art Institute of Boston is our new neighbor, and they organized a project where 17 of us Porter Square retailers had students or professors install a piece in our windows. Our artist chose to center her piece on kaleidoscopes and today they are having a little opening stroll. We hope you'll come down and see - there are a lot of interesting windows and of course, we're particularly fond of ours! They will be up through October 12th so you have plenty of time ! And bottom picture - taken with the very cool iphone kaleidoscope app by Scott Collard, available for free and lots of fun.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

One of the Many Laws of Retail

One to two days after donating an item to charity that had been sitting on the shelf not selling for months and months - someone will come in and ask for one. "You know, that cupcake soap, they were so cute, I bought lots of them." The customer was so eager to get one that I went in the back and looked, even though I was 99.9% sure that I had not accidentally left one out of that donation box. What can you do - it's just of those odd laws of retail. Another related law - just after you've looked at an item that you've had on display for a long time and thought "maybe I really should give this away" someone will buy it, and - the next day, another customer will walk in and ask for it! The laws of retail - strange, but true . . . . .

Monday, September 10, 2012

R.I.P. Unicorn Pencil Sharpeners

It was such an inspired idea - a unicorn pencil sharpener, with a little silver pencil in place of a horn. Another witty idea brought to us by the same company that brought us the Unicorn Corn Skewers and the Screwnicorn wine opener. An inspired and witty idea - until we tried to sharpen the pencil! No matter what we did we could not bring that silver pencil to a point. We tried some other pencils. Ditto. We tried another unicorn in case it was just one bad one. We tried a third. I wrote to the company to let them know that their product didn't work. It had to be the plastic insert - and we've sold pencil sharpeners for $2 that worked just fine. They never answered our letter. So, sadly, and reluctantly, we let the unicorns go free. We love to sell silly whimsical things - but we do have standards - if it's a pencil sharpener, it has to actually sharpen the pencil. If it's a bottle opener, it has to open the bottle. If it's a pen, it has to write, if it's a medival weapon pushpin, it must push paper into corkboard. We want our customers to feel confident about purchasing our sometimes rather silly items - and that is why our unicorn pencil sharpeners are no more.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Best Publicity is Free Publicity!

Last night one of our all time favorite companies, Blue Q, got an informal shout on on the floor of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte. Michelle Obama took the stage and the cameras panned out over the wildly cheering crowds. One person was holding this bag, waving it slowly back and forth and the camera stopped and filmed them for a good ten or fifteen seconds. Of course there was no Blue Q sign - so we're doing our part by telling our customers - it was their bag! Available here at Joie de Vivre - and many fine stores nationwide. Go Michelle, Go Blue Q ! (& okay, we'll reveal our prejudice while we're at it: Go Obama!)

Friday, August 31, 2012

Never Underestimate the Power of Bubbles!

I went up to visit my cousin and his wife at their beach house a few weeks ago. Almost as an afterthought, I threw a half dozen tubes of bubbles in my bag - I like bubbles. When I arrived, the two grandchildren, 3 and 6, were variously watching television and playing with an array of electronic devices. They barely looked up when I entered the room. Eventually, we left the house and spent a lovely afternoon boating and swimming, returning to the house in time for dinner. It's always a chore to get dinner for a lot of people to the table, and the youngest natives were getting restless when I remembered those bubbles. I got them and we went outside - and they could not possibly have been more of a success. The kids were blowing them, chasing them, watching my grown-up bubble ability (really big ones, or lots and lots at once, etc.) They were running around, laughing, and the six year old even made a scientific discovery - he figured out, and informed me, that when you blow really hard at a medium size bubble, it turns into lots of smaller bubbles. I tried it, he was completely correct. It was very satisfying to see how those bubbles engaged those kids. Yay for the simple and magical bubble!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Do You Have "that" Candle?

We can confess now - for awhile, we've been selling a birthday candle we thought was illegal in Massachusetts. We thought it was illegal because sparklers are illegal here, and the flame on this baby is about 100 times more intense than a lovely little flickering sparkler. But, knowing it was legal in Europe and 45 of our 50 states, we decided to quietly sell it anyway. We kept it behind the counter, and customers who were in the know would ask - nudge nudge wink wink - if we had the "special" birthday candle. Or "that" candle. We always showed them a video so they would know what to expect and warned them to keep it away from those who might have imbibed a little too much birthday cheer. Anyway, the other week I saw these candles on sale at our local Shaws supermarket. Shaws is a giant corporation, and I knew they would never sell anything illegal. Then I went to the Gift Show last week, met the supplier, and learned that for some reason, as a birthday candle, the special candle had squeaked through the regulations that the (to us) much less dangerous sparkler cannot. So - starting next week, we will have these wonderful candles on sale here at Joie - right out in the open. Besides their spectacular display, they also play Happy Birthday. (And buyer beware - they will play it for up to two weeks if the wire is not cut.) If you have a special birthday event coming up, we have just the thing for you!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Gift Show !

Joie de Blog is at the New York Gift Show, walking the 12 miles of aisles (so they say) to find wonderful new items "the better to delight you with." One of the things we love most about this particular show is the wide range of items and prices we see - here are two items, one of which, due to price, you won't be seeing at the store - and one that you will - (feel free to guess which is which) Illuminated Sign: $600. Small Felt Mouse - $12. Happily most of the things we have found fall easily into the affordable price range. Now, must finish coffee and head back to show!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Joie Product Spotted in New York Times!!

We were perusing the real estate section today - don't ask us why - these things just happen - and read an article about open houses.  The author was speaking of people finding items that made them uncomfortable when they opened a closet or medicine cabinet for a better look, and wound up that section of the piece with this:  "Likewise, all the nice prep work inside the apartment doesn’t prevent a bad impression from being made by other tenants of the building. At an apartment I saw in Brooklyn, the downstairs neighbor had a doormat that read 'Come Back With a Warrant.' I didn’t."  Okay - we sell that doormat here at Joie de Vivre - and we think it's very funny.  How anyone could think that it gives a serious bad impression  is kind of beyond us!   Too bad the people in the next apartment didn't have the Witness Protection one!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Joie Wants to Know !

Why would you change a perfect item?  We have been selling the Penguin Race for over 25 years.  There are some who don't like its incessantly (relentlessly?) cheerful chirping sound but we have come to accept and, yes, love it.
It's a rather inexpensive toy that inspires paroxysms of delight in small children, and shrieks of "I had that when I was a kid, I loved it!" in twenty year olds.  We've bought it from different distributors over the years,  and seen slight variations in box design and graphics, but the actual item has remained the same - until now.  I just ordered a dozen from one of our regular Penguin Race suppliers and they had not only a different look but a very different sound - the cheerful chirping replaced by more of an electronic fuzzy noise.  When I called to ask why, I was told that the supplier had decided to go with a cheaper factory, and that so far, no one seemed to mind.  But - never fear - we will sell only the original here at Joie de Vivre. And suppliers of inferior products take note - we say to the Penguin Race - we love you, you're perfect, don't change!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

We Interrupt This Blog . . .

for a week while we admire the waves and beaches of the New Jersey Shore.  And we're not just admiring them  - we're swimming in them, walking on them, and doing all kinds of other things  here.  When you live in Massachusetts and tell people you're going to the Jersey Shore on vacation,  people look at you kind of funny. Like - why would you go there?  But take it from us - many parts of the Jersey Shore are not only Snooki free but absolutely beautiful.  We will resume our regular blogcasts next week at the latest !

Friday, August 3, 2012

Due To Circumstances Beyond Our Control

We just received a letter of apology from one of our suppliers, a company called Mr. Christmas.  They were writing to tell us that one of the items we had ordered for the holidays would not be produced, explaining that one of the factories in China who makes goods for them unexpectedly closed, due to "financial obstacles."  They said that they were trying to understand what had happened, then went on to add that the factory owner was allegedly kidnapped, they lost the deposits they had made on their orders, and the massive molds for several of the products had disappeared.  Yikes !  I think we can accept their  "sincere apologies" and believe their last sentence "we hope you will understand that this was not in our control."

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Picking Up Stars

We here at Joie de Vivre tend toward the philosophy that things will last forever.  Staplers, microwaves, cardboard boxes (and we've had some of those that hung around a decade or more), hot water heaters, air conditioners, paint jobs, displays, rugs, and super expensive signage.  It's a jolt to realize that in fact, almost everything eventually wears out.  Even things that don't really get picked up and used- like, for example,  super expensive signs.  Yesterday morning there was a small pile of debris on the sidewalk outside.  It looked like garden mulch but a quick check of our little storefront garden revealed nothing amiss.  (We get the occasional late night plant puller outer.)  And then I saw the star lying on the ground.  The star that had been affixed to the upper right hand side of our store sign.  (look at picture to right in blog) Completely water logged and shredding, it literally falling apart further under my fingers. And then I remembered the guy I hired to tack up a piece of the sign last fall telling me that the whole thing would need to be replaced.  I had conveniently put it right out of my mind.  Anyway, just want to warn you long time customers that in the next few months, (as soon as we figure out our new design) if you come to Joie, our sign won't look the same - but it will still be us !

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Do My Eyes Deceive Me?

A customer who collects Josh Simpson planets was in at the beginning of the summer.  She has a fair amount and wanted to look at every single one we had - some several dozen.  She spent quite a fair amount of time, scrutinizing them and bought a few, promising to return to see if we had received any new ones.  She came in yesterday, and asked if we had any new ones in the back.  I felt guilty, as I had hinted we would probably get another order, and we had not yet reordered.  But I confessed.  "No, nothing new," I told her.  Her response - "but, you have new ones out on display!"  I told her she had seen them before.  She asked to see the ones from the stockroom - and marveled that there were numerous ones that she didn't remember.  That's actually a complement to the richness of these little environments - they are so multi-faceted, that depending on what part of the surface one particularly notices, you might not remember it if held at a different place.  But it's also telling in that our memories are never quite as reliable as we think!  Something we saw two months ago can seem like an entirely different thing.  Not always - but - just saying . . .  it's interesting!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

If Grownups Wrote Like Kids

I was reading over a new book we got in this week - P.S. I hate it here - children's letters home from camp. They're slighty heartbreaking at times, but almost always very funny.  And one thing really strikes me about them, the way a kid will bounce from subject to subject with no idea how it reads.  "I hate it here, I hate it here, please pick me up, please please please.  We had really good brownies for dessert last night" - might be one example.  Or the kid who details a list of disasters from bug bites to getting beaned in the soccer game to scraping both knees - next sentence "I'm fine."   Imagine an adult writing in that style - "I was in a terrible accident today,  I was thinking of something else, and went right through a stop sign.  I hit someone but thank God no one was hurt.  I just found the best color of nail polish!  Moonshell pink!" or maybe - "My cat died yesterday. I've had him for so long - over 15 years, I'm really going to miss him so much.  Johnny Depp is getting divorced!"  It would seem downright peculiar for an adult to write that way, but kids do it all the time.  I have my grade and junior high school diaries as proof.  And P.S - I survived both camp and junior high.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Really? in 2012?

I was looking at a Toy catalogue the other day - needed to reorder something.  I don't order a lot from this company because it really is mostly aimed at kids, in a way that we don't aim at Joie - we like things that appeal to both kids and adults.  In any case, I hadn't looked through this catalogue at length before, and was taken aback to see their science kits divided into two separate sections for boys and girls. In the girls section:   snowflake factory, lip balm lab, bath bomb factory, Luxury Soap Science Lab, Beautiful Blob Slime Lab, Perfect Perfume Factory and Magic Crystal Oasis.  Boys get:  Volcano Crater Lab, Spooky Ice Planet Lab, Weird Slime Lab, Hyperlauncher Rocket Ball, Practical Joke Soap Laboratory, and Wild Physics and Cool Chemistry.  Pictures of girly girls on the girl's boxes and pictures of intent young male scientists on the boys.  Really?  After all we've been through?  To be fair, the girls kits did advertise "learn about the structure and changes of properties of matter, mixtures and solutions and chemical reactions."  They are not entirely fluff.  And I believe that most boys are probably not interested in making the perfect perfume or luxury soap.  But why exclude girls from Wild Physics and Cool Chemistry?  And what kid wouldn't be intrigued by a Spooky Ice Planet Lab?  Is it 2012 or 1952 here?  I don't think that boys and girls are exactly the same by any means - but I think these divisions are just plain silly.  And I think they are bad news for girls.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Zen of Retail

Every morning when I open the store, I walk around checking all the displays, straightening the cards, making sure the wind-up toys are facing the right direction, etc.  This morning, I picked up the large pin screen and pushed my face into it, and thought to myself: 28 years and I'm still pushing my face into the pinscreen.  Retail often requires us to do the same things over and over.  And over.  I don't think we've actually sold pinscreens for the entire 28 years - but probably close to 25.  At 365 days in a year, that's 9,125 days.  And some of those days we were closed.And some of them I was on vacation, or didn't open the store myself.  And some of them we were out of stock on large pinscreens.  Still, conservatively speaking, I would guess I have captured my likeness in pins at least 5 or 6 thousand times.  That's kind of a lot.  And I'm not done yet!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Resolved !

Someone who used to work for me moved to New York years ago, and to support her dance career, wound up working at Pottery Barn.  She didn't last long, partly because management required the staff to do and say specific things routinely to customers.  Okay, "Welcome to Pottery Barn" isn't that bad, but what really rankled her was the "add on sales."  If a customer approached with a mug, she had to ask if they wanted a coffee maker to go with it - that sort of thing.  We dismissed this as corporate annoyingness, and she wound up happy at The Enchanted Forest, a wonderful independent store owned by a friend of mine.  But lately, I've been noticing more and more of this in the small businesses I patronize.  Approach the counter with one bottle of wine and you're asked "Can I get you anything else?"  I bought an iced coffee this morning, brought it to the counter of a small gourmet shop and was asked the equivalent of "is that all?"  Yes - that's all I want.  It just seems so clear that the powers that be have instructed sales staff to say this.  If I wanted something else, I would ask for it.  Do they think I'm going to say - oh yes, I forgot - I want a bottle of your most expensive Scotch, that special cheese flown in from a small village in Italy - or a picnic for 6?  It's a small thing, but the more I hear it, the more it's started to bother me. I hereby resolve that we will not say that here at Joie de Vivre.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Another Birthday

Tomorrow is July 4th, a once inviolate holiday when a retailer wouldn't consider opening, even for a second.  But things change, and now almost all the "majors" i.e. big big stores, are open.  This produces a little anxiety in we smaller stores, and several neighboring merchants have asked me if we're going to be open, then breathed a sigh of relief when I said no.  I've done the same. And I was in a local speciality food shop a few days ago - I thought the cashier, who I know, asked me if I was doing anything for the 4th, and I said nothing much, just hang out with friends and enjoy having a day off.  She then said "they wanted to open here, but the staff revolted," and I realized she had actually asked me if we would be open. I don't think anyone wants to go back to the Blue Law days . . . .  but sometimes it's just really nice not to have the choice to go shopping.  It might seem a little frustrating initially - but to me, a holiday seems more peaceful and relaxing - more like a holiday - when not much is open.  See you on July 5th!  and Happy Birthday America.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

They Say It's Your Birthday

Today is the 28th birthday of Joie de Vivre, and it happens to be cosmically aligned with the day we opened - the 28th falls on the same day of the week, Thursday, which happens only 4 times every 28 years. We've decided to celebrate by having a little 5 to 8 champagne - seeing as we opened that first day at exactly 5 pm.  Funny to think back: we had no computer, no fax machine, the word "blog" was unknown,  and no one ever looked down at a small glowing screen while they were in the store.  Joie de Vivre looked kind of like an art gallery, an item here, an item there,  it was quite spare.  Life has changed a lot.  But, many things do remain the same - and we've been selling some of the same items for the whole 28 years - Pustefix bubbles, kaleidoscopes, the dancing magnetic ballerina.  And we're still sitting behind the same desk, happy to talk to you, help you choose a present, gift wrap it and send you on your way. These days some of our customers come to us via the internet and we ship all over the world.  But we still like doing business the old fashioned way right here in Cambridge.  Thanks to our customers wherever they are, whether they remember the opening day itself, or whether they came in for the first time last week!  Cheers!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Trend Alert !

A young woman was in the other day, browsing our card racks.  After laughing what I believe is called "immoderately" at one of them she came up to the desk, smart phone in hand.  "Is it okay if I take a picture of a card?" she asked. Surprised, I said okay.  "I want to send it to my sister," she added, "it's really perfect for her."
Part of me thought - how sweet - she knows her sister will like this card,  and my next thought was - ten years ago she would have bought the card.  Of course losing a sale for 2.95 is not that big of a deal, but somehow I felt it was a harbinger of the future.  Taking pictures of cards and emailing them is the new buying and sending them?
I fear this is not a trend that bodes well for the greeting card industry!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Happy Father's Day and Small Apology

Joie de Blog has always had a horror of not blogging.  One of our pet peeves is going to a website of any sort, clicking on the "read our blog!" button, and finding that the most recent entry dates back a couple of years.  We try to post at least twice a week.  But sometimes life intervenes, in the form of spectacular weather, a chance to go to Vermont, and the blog is temporarily forgotten.  And we feel bad about that.  However,  we are deciding that blogging once a week is the new blogging twice a week - at least some of the time.  So, apologies, and here we are again, on Father's Day 2012.  It always strikes us how different Father's Day is from Mother's Day.  The week before Mother's Day is much busier, and this is universally true - florists tell me that Mother's Day is bigger than their second most important day of the year, Valentine's Day, and Father's Day provides a tiny bump at best.  The one thing they have in common that we enjoy here at Joie de Vivre, is the young child shopping with the other parent, and trying to pick out a gift for their mom or dad.  It's really cute to see kids trying to convince one parent that what the other parent would really really like is - a small toy truck or car - or glowing fairy.  Eventually they get the hang of it of course, and it's also fun to see kids thoughtfully choosing a gift for their mom or dad.  We're about to open and ready to help - choose - wrap - whatever.  Happy Father's Day to all our customer dads !

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Jane Jacobs vs Marc Jacobs

In an interesting article on Mom and Pop shops in New York's Greenwich Village published in the NYTimes magazine today, I learned what kind of business Joie de Vivre is.  It's a "lifestyle" business.   One merchant interviewed after thirty years in business said, "we're not richer or poorer.  we're about the same."  Writer's comment - "and this didn't bother him." I understand that way of thinking.  Don't want to get bigger, bigger, bigger.  But that's not all the article talks about - it's worth a read - interesting piece that resonated with me - (with a crazy long link - there's probably a better way to do this!  Anyway,  here it is:

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Fun with Displays

What can I say . . . .  sometimes I just get an idea that makes me smile . . ..  (not that the notebook on its own didn't do that!)

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Agony and the Ecstacy

No, this is not a book review, though I did read and love the Irving Stone biography of Michelangelo when I was in junior high school. This post is about - lava lights, those compellingly blobby liquid lamps that had their heyday back in the 1960s.   We have been selling them for years and though they've become a bit more streamlined in appearance - sleeker now with a simple modern silver base, their main attraction is still those slowly moving blobs of wax, bulging and morphing their way through the lava liquid. (whatever that is).  Anyway, the last few years we've been having a lot of problems with them.  We keep a couple on display at the store and started to notice that they seemed - kind of inferior.  This led us to start testing them when they came in - and we found a very high percentage of substandard lava lights.  The company and their distributors are always very good about taking back the ones with problems . . . but it takes us a lot of time to test each light, and when 75% aren't working .. . . .  you start to wonder if its worth it.  So, the post title references our situation.  A good working lava lamp is a thing of beauty and something we would always want to sell here - ecstasy.  But a bad one, a fuzzy murky one, one that refuses to blob - agony.  We'll keep trying for awhile longer, but there may come a day when we have to stop selling these beloved but currently frustrating items.  : (

Monday, May 28, 2012

Hey - my thoughts exactly!

It's Memorial Day and we are not open.  So I have a little extra time at home to browse through the pile of books on my table and generally muse on things.  I was looking through a new book written by a designer/businessman I have always greatly admired (even if I have occasionally been brought to despair by the high prices of his beautiful clothing).  His name is Paul Smith and the book is Paul Smith A to Z.  Musings on everything from Abbey Road and Architecture to the White Stripes and Zebras, lavishly illustrated with photos and drawings.  He has a small shop on 5th Avenue in New York that I've often gone into, occasionally to buy, often to admire.  An interesting mix of clothing and small items from toothbrushes to handmade toys to watches and plates.  In one of the book entries he writes about his shops saying "the premise is always the same.  When you come into a Paul Smith  shop, even if you don't buy anything, it should be a pleasant experience."  This is exactly how I feel about Joie de Vivre.  We never want anyone to feel that they must buy something to be welcome.  Some days you're just browsing.  Or you can't afford the $250 shirt - or in our case, kaleidoscope, that you fall in love with. It doesn't mean you shouldn't enjoy looking at it.  And you may come back another day, to buy the orange striped toothbrush - or in our case a postcard or a wind up toy.  Anyway, it made me very happy to realize that my retail philosophy is shared by Paul Smith !  And though he is a business man, he is also an artist and writes eloquently of his love of everything from music to friends and family to the Queen (he's a Brit) to porcelain rabbits.  I think he would approve of us closing for Memorial Day.  Life beyond business and all . . . .

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

It's a . . . Small World . . . ?

Actually the world seems kind of impossibly large when you find out that three packages originating from a company in London, and shipped to us were sent to  . . . Afghanistan !   Through the miracle of modern technology I was able to see the shipping label and they had everything about our address correct - except instead of USA, it was Cambridge, 02140 AF -  and since to UPS, AF is Afghanistan - that's where they sent the boxes.  Especially odd as we've been ordering from the company in London for at least five years, and they've always gotten our address right before.  It made for a few funny emails anyway - and possibly some confused people in "AF" !

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Never Say Never (continued)

I'm starting to think I should have numbered and tagged these "never say never" posts.  We sold an item years ago - probably over 15 years ago - that we are still asked for today - it was a little plastic car crumb sweeper - good for sweeping up toast crumbs, or eraser dust and the like.  It was made in Japan, sold really well, and all of a sudden we couldn't get them anymore.  There was a Taiwanese knock-off briefly available but it wasn't as good, and even that disappeared - as knock-offs usually do.  I had a request card from a customer who desperately wanted one - but I think I threw her card out a year ago - we'd been holding onto it for - ten years?  and it seemed silly to keep it.  Until today.  At the Stationary Show, where, walking the aisles, I stopped at a Japanese booth - and there they were.  The same little cars, original version.   Just another reminder that I should never - never - say "never."  You just "never" know what's going to come back  . .

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Collector's Item Alert !

Years ago we bought music boxes imported from Japan from a company called TMC Designs. They are no longer being produced or we'd have them still as they were beautiful — sophisticated (i.e. non-cheesy) images of clowns and fairies and animals.  Sometimes the tune choices were — to put it kindly — a little odd.  When we asked about this the distributors explained that the Japanese makers didn't really relate to the song selection so were somewhat arbitrary about what went in what.  If the song was too odd they would be given a more appropriate song to replace it with.  For example — there was a box featuring a cute little grey rabbit that played "Hey Jude" — and evidently was a sought after item in San Francisco until the tune was changed to something more along the lines of "Here comes Peter Cottontail."  Anyway, we recently found a new music box company — a German company producing in China, and we got our first order today.  A set of ducks in a pond that played "Waltzing Matilda."  A circus monkey "The Entertainer."  Two little fish "It's a Small World."  All reasonable.  But wait — what's the music on the box with the two elephants?  Collector's alert!  It plays "Old MacDonald had a Farm" as the elephants madly spin around.  Pretty funny . . .

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mother and Daughter

It was Mother's Day today.  And it was an absolutely beautiful day.  We were not very busy - I'm sure people were out walking or at the Lilac Festival or who knows - I know you would have had to drag me inside on a day like today.  Of the few who did venture into Joie, many were mother daughter combinations.  The one that stuck out for me was a mother and daughter who came in, the daughter maybe 20 or so, and excited about bringing her mother to the store.  The mother seemed a bit unenthusiastic at first, but she began to have a good time and was enjoying looking around.  The odd thing was, the more the Mom was enjoying herself, the less the daughter seemed to.  And she tried to talk her mother out of anything she was interested in buying.  It was all little things, gifts she wanted to buy for other people.  The daughter would say, "but you shouldn't buy something for someone else today, you should let me buy you something!"  If the mother said so and so would like this book/ray guy/squeeze cow/whatever - the daughter would say no they wouldn't.  Then, when the mom picked something up and said she liked it, would like it for herself - never anything expensive - the daughter just ignored her.  I was tempted to intervene, but instead I bit my tongue.  Eventually the daughter started urging her mother  - who still seemed to be enjoying just looking around - to leave.  I hope the rest of their afternoon went a bit better !  

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

15 Minutes of Fame?

A small part of a documentary film was shot today inside Joie de Vivre.  It's about a palindromist who lives in our neighborhood -see previous blog for a sample of his work.  It was quite official, we had to sign both a location and a personal release form - as well as turn off our music system to avoid legal problems for the filmmaker.  The action?  Man walks into Joie de Vivre, hangs around and chats a bit - asks the Magic 8 Ball a couple of questions, buys a mother's day card - and leaves.  Two of the three of us who were here fled to the back room for the duration of this, leaving me to be the one who just might possibly look awful on camera someday.  I have seen myself on camera before - and can only say - results vary.  Wildly.  But, hopefully Joie itself will look good, and the filmmaker did spend some time filming various of our objects - from our tiny automata to balloon mobiles and sound machines.  It will be interesting to see it someday - and we will be sure to let you know when that day arrives.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

A Palindrome for Our Sidewalk Sale

The weather for said sidewalk sale is looking a little uncertain - but never fear,  the sale will go on shine or rain - if it rains, we will simply bring the sidewalk inside, where rain or shine, we will also feature additional bargains.   And now we present our palindrome, courtesy of local palindromist extraordinaire, Barry Duncan !  Title - (not a palindrome) - Mass. Ave Sidewalk Sale.

Now, one lass send a memo: Shop, I hoot, on M.A., 5/5. Am not (Oh) side (yes) walk (sir!) sale? Very. Name varied. A mix: 11 hosts. Oh, hey! (Ad: 10-5, 5/5, 01 day, eh?) Hosts? Oh, 11 (XI) made, I rave, many. (Revel as risk? Laws eyed?) Is hot on M.A., 5/5. Am, no? Too hip! Oh, some madness? Sale. Now. On.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Various Tiny things

The other morning freshening and straightening the front desk displays at Joie de Vivre, I saw something that gave me pause.  For years, we've had a little container of "various tiny things" at the desk.  It's been an odd little collection - tiny devil ducks, tiny ninjas, nuns, and brides and grooms, snakes,  rubber chickens, Japanese creatures of indeterminate species, tiny frogs, cats, cows, etc.  Maybe 5 years ago there was a big shake up in the toy world when a few companies were found to be importing things from China that might not be 100% safe for children. This led to industry wide testing and rather stringent new requirements that every single item that was to be sold as a toy go through a battery of expensive tests.  Every item - so if you paid $2500 to have your tiny rubber frogs tested, and your tiny rubber snakes were made of identical material - you still had to pay $2500 to separately submit proof for the snakes.  (My $2500 figure is arbitrary, but various companies have assured me it was in that range.) Needless to say - a lot of smaller companies dropped their tiniest items, rather than pay for the testing. This is why we no longer have tiny devil ducks and ninjas - a truly sad thing for us at Joie de Vivre.  Anyway, our available "various tiny things" pool has drunk considerably and when I looked at it the other day I noticed something truly odd. Our collection now features rubber chickens (evidently popular enough to justify the expense), a group of very realistic tiny animals from a major toy company - and a bunch of black men. And there is a reason for that - of the various races of tiny brides and grooms we had -(white, brown, black) - the black men were always left behind.  When they were scattered in with other races, it was fine, and I guess because I knew this I didn't really think about it.  But that morning,  I suddenly thought - what would a black man think if he came in and glanced down at this?  It really does look kind of bizarre. I think I will be removing the little black men from our display ! !

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Strange But It Happens

I was changing a display the other day — taking some powdered metal hooks and shelves off the back wall to make room for some new arrivals.  As I took them down, I realized how few of them had sold in the year and a half since we'd gotten them in.  It was puzzling — they weren't particularly expensive, they were beautifully made, nice colors, and they were animal themed — rabbits, hummingbirds, cats, seahorses — when I ordered them I'd expected them to sell really well.  And I had moved them around the store a lot, trying to find a spot where they'd be noticed, but no matter where they were, they were very rarely purchased.  I mentioned this to the other person working — who expressed an equal sense of "why don't they sell?"  I said I was thinking of putting them in our upcoming sidewalk sale, then went about my business for the rest of the day.  I left an hour before we closed.  This morning, when I opened the store, I flipped through the sales books to see what had sold after I'd gone the day before...   and my eye was caught by "hummingbird shelf."  It's so odd — this seems to happen often.  Just when you think you're really going to give up on something, just when you think, "we never ever sell these" — then someone comes along and buys one.  It's like that odd experience when you think of someone you haven't thought of in a long time... and then within hours — you hear from them.  The world is a strange and mysterious place!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Kids These Days

I pulled a piece of paper out of my front yard the other day when I went out to get the newspaper in the morning - it was too big to ignore.  That would be exhibit A - above. We've had some beautiful weather this week, and it's school vacation week so it wasn't hard to figure out that some neighborhood kids had been taking advantage of the 80 degree weather to make a little money - after all, a time honored American tradition - the lemonade stand.  50 cents seemed like a reasonable price as well - but what was that little blurry note beneath the price?  I looked closer.  It said "we take tips."   Now I'm sure that grownups who patronize lemonade stands run by the younger set often do leave the whole dollar, or some extra change.  But I found it kind of odd that the sign was not so subtly asking for them.  Kind of reminds me of the day I noticed a tip jar in a fish store. The only service provided was the regular stuff of retail - you enter, ask for a pound of salmon, they give it to you, you leave.  The idea of asking for tips for that seemed - kind of greedy to me.  I can't imagine having a tip jar at Joie de Vivre, though people  very occasionally have tried to slip us an extra dollar as a thanks for gift wrapping - a dollar we always refuse. Anyway, these were just kids .. . .  but I found it an interesting indicator of how pervasive the "give me extra money" sentiment has become!  and full disclosure, I find the whole tipping thing, outside of restaurants, to be kind of confusing!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

R.I.P. Moss

MOSS was a design store in Soho.  A wonderful store that showcased very very modern design alongside porcelain birds and squirrels.  A very carefully curated store.  A store after Joie de Vivre's own heart.  Beautiful displays, the first to show designers like Tord Boontje . . . and the "burned" show where a Dutch artist scorched almost beyond recognition iconic pieces of furniture . . . and the place I found my wine glass doorbell . . . a place I lusted for things I couldn't afford - for instance a $250,000 crystal chandelier, and bought a few things I could - a set of shot glasses.  This afternoon I was reading the latest Metropolis Magazine and read that Moss has just closed -  Various reasons were given from the health of its founder Murray Moss, to the way the web has made buying design products easier to an increase in rent - from an absolutely staggering $80,000 a MONTH to who knows what.  (Guess Joie won't be opening in Soho anytime soon!)  Anyway, I was a regular and happy visitor, and that block on Greene Street will seem oddly empty without it.  1994 -  2012. Moss will be missed.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Science Sometimes Surprises !

Well,  we have now concluded our scientific investigation into jelly bean preference by color, and the results upended years worth of previous experience.  This is a photo of our jelly bean bowl at the beginning of the test period.  We fully expected to publish another picture alongside it - a picture that would be dramatically different, showing a bowl full of black, green and a few yellow and purple jelly beans.  Much to our surprise, we could not take that photo - the bowl looked virtually identical at the end of the test period.  Maybe we influenced the results by telling people who expressed a preference for black beans to take as many as they wanted . . . maybe not.  Maybe the taste buds of our customers have been subtly changing.  At any rate, after several weeks of jelly bean consumption, we posit the theory that all colors of jelly bean are equally popular.  Next years results expected post March 31st - and we promise not to April Fool you !

and we apologize for the odd spacing of this post - another mystery - to us, anyway!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Hen Cam !

We meet a lot of interesting people through our lovely chicken purse, and Terry Golson is one of them.  She raises chickens, and a few other creatures on her Little Pond Farm, and she has a very nice website with a hen blog . . . and a hen cam - live footage of the happy hens, 24/7.  What could be better for an Easter post?  Take a look - it's peaceful (mostly), relaxing, and slightly habit forming . . . .

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Here comes Peter Cottontail . . .

These bunnies are waiting to cross Mass. Ave and staring up at the traffic light . . . they're on their way to Joie de Vivre.  Easter is approaching - if you come by the store you can participate in our scientific study - we're evaluating the patterns of disappearance of jelly beans by color.  (We will publish our findings, along with photographic evidence, in a future blog,)  Easter is one of those holidays that took me by surprise when I opened the store - I never thought of it as a gift giving holiday, but I soon learned that oh yes, it is.  My current theory is, regardless of one's religious persuasion, when spring starts "busting out all over" - and it certainly has here this year - you just feel like celebrating.  And wind-up butterflies, chenille chicks and bunny puppets are as good a way as any!

Saturday, March 31, 2012

A Classic Gets Controversial

Okay, so most of us have by now heard the remark made by would be President Mitt Romney's aide concerning campaign strategy: "I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes. It's almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up, and we start all over again."  It wasn't a particularly smart or considered statement, but one good thing - it brought the Ohio Art Company, makers of Etch-a-Sketch, a LOT of free publicity.  We have been selling etch-a-sketches at Joie de Vivre for over 25 years, and did not notice huge rush in the week after this statement, but guess what?  Some people did. Amazon reported that their sales of the classic toy increased 1556% in a matter of a few days.  (Of course I wonder why none of those people bought them from us, but that's another story, more about the change in American shopping habits than Etch-a-Sketch publicity.)  Anyway, I would like to give a shout out to the Ohio Art Company here. They are a pleasure to work with and very very friendly to small business - I can call them and order a dozen etch-a-sketches and they will send them the next day. (Unlike some toy manufacturers I might mention - okay, I'll say it - how about $5000 worth of Magic 8 Balls as a minimum order from Hasbro?)(That's a LOT of Magic 8 Balls!!)  So, we're happy to see Ohio Art Co. and the Etch-a-Sketch get some free publicity . . . and hey, a little more flack for our ex-governor is okay with us too!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

One of These Things is Not Like the Other Ones

A customer was in the store last week, and told us he had something to show us. He pulled out a camera - or maybe his phone, scrolled through some photos and there it was - one of our plastic finger tentacles, poking up from some coral in an exploratory kind of way. I can only imagine how delighted that tentacle was to get out of Joie de Vivre and into some real salt water! I asked if we could use the photo and was directed to his website where I found many other beautiful photos - though I think our tentacle was hands down the best of course. (And thank you, Mark, for letting us use the photo.)

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Sunday Afternoon Story

A mother was in with two young daughters today, during a quiet spell on an otherwise busy Sunday. The youngest daughter - maybe three? or four years old? - soon informed me that "I have $5" and pulled a crumpled bill out of her pocket to illustrate her wealth. She asked me if we had anything that cost $5 in the store. I showed her our section of small toys - all under $5 and she started to browse. In the meantime, her older sister was peppering me with questions like "where is the penguin race?" (an item I had moved since her last visit) and "what is this?" - "how does this work?" They spend a fair amount of time looking around, playing with a few things, while Mom browsed the grown-up sections The girl with $5 finally picked out an elephant eraser that cost $1.50 but seemed a little confused about it not costing exactly $5. Her mother and I explained that she could buy it, and I would actually give her money back. (Her mother had told me she was trying to get the girls to understand money.) She sat on the floor, digesting this information, and then suddenly asked me "What did you get for Christmas?" She didn't seem too impressed by my answer: "books, and some hand knit socks, and a sweater." (I made up the sweater part because my mind had suddenly gone blank.) She looked at me sadly. "Your birthday will be coming soon!" she suddenly said. I allowed that this was true. "Christmas is coming again too," she added. I agreed with her again, (though thinking to myself, thank goodness it won't be here anytime soon.) Then, Mom said it was time to go, so the elephant and the $5 bill were thrust on to the counter. I wrote out a sales slip for $1.50 plus 9 cents tax, and handed her her change. I think she kind of felt she hadn't spent anything as it appeared she was getting back more than she had given me - three bills and a bunch of coins - and, an elephant! It was a very fun half hour for me.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

First Day of Spring !

We just began our garden today - and then I realized that it's actually the first day of spring! So . . it also seems like a good time to show you all the Easter window that someone painted for us this Sunday. Much to the delight of passerbys, the artist sat (& stood) in the window for almost 5 hours. First she drew the scene with sharpies, then colored the bunnies in, then the grass, then the birds - it was fascinating to watch, and we think it's rather magical too. Come see!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Can't We All Just Get Along?

I was in New York a few weeks ago and stopped in to visit Eataly - an amazing if slightly overwhelming Italian food emporium on 23rd Street, owned by restauranteurs Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich. The seared bitter greens at the vegetable bar alone ensure my return. Actually, I'm kind of glad I don't live close enough to be constantly going there - as you might imagine, Manhattan emporiums full of exotic delights are not generally known for their bargain prices. And so many treats and temptations in this one. (and, to be fair, all of the pricing is not completely over the top.) Anyway, to get back to the matter at hand - i.e. this blog post - they had a sign in the Expresso Bar that I particularly liked! And . . here it is!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Record Setter

I did something I never imagined I would ever do a few weeks ago - ordered some birthday cards that retail for $14 and $16 ! The image above is our $14 "large but cute yellow bird" (as described by its makers.) Lift up its wing to reveal a little pop-up flower bouquet - press the button to hear it wish you Happy Birthday in Japanese - and sing a little bit. It's just kind of irresistible - and I couldn't resist ordering it even as I wondered - will anyone ever buy this card? As soon as it arrived and we put it in the card rack, I got my answer - yes ! The other card is a singing animal orchestra - couldn't find a good photo, but it's equally cute.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Muchas Gracias - Hasta Luego!

In an attempt to improve the Spanish I learned my first year of college - and while waitressing in a French Hungarian restaurant with Peruvian cooks - I took four semesters of Spanish at the Harvard Extension School a few years ago. I really enjoyed the classes and felt almost reasonably fluent for awhile there. Then I moved on to other subjects and slowly my newly acquired vocabulary seemed to fade away. If you asked me, say, how to conjugate irregular verbs in the future tense, I would most likely look at you blankly even though I received an A on that exam. Problem - I rarely get a chance to speak Spanish. But sometimes I do. A few days ago an older man was in the store and I, the resident language expert (my French is pretty decent as befits the owner of "Joie de Vivre") - was called out to help. He was from Chile, and interested in the KitKat Clock. And we wound up communicating almost entirely in Spanish. It's not quite like riding a bicycle, but it does come back, and it's so fun and satisfying to be able to help in another language. And I learned a few new words too - like "pila" is the preferred word for batteries in Chile. So . . . viene a Joie de Vivre para hablar conmigo! Ou - nous pouvons parlor francais! ou . . essayer . . .

Sunday, March 4, 2012

5 Year Diary, Qu'est-ce que c'est?

I was staying with friends while at the Baltimore Craft Show a week or so ago - friends who kindly gave me their own bedroom! Their three year old daughter wandered in one morning and picked up a small blue book I had left lying on the bed - my Page-A-Day five year diary. We sell these at Joie de Vivre - you write a few lines a day and each page has five sections - so you write each year until when finished, you have a record of your last five years. It's very interesting (& occasionally distressing to see how predictable one's life can be, especially when you are older!) Anyway, J. picked up my book and started paging through it. I assumed she'd quickly put it down - no pictures and writing in script - but she stared at it for quite awhile. "Why is it written in different colored inks?" she asked me. Impressed that she'd noticed, I started to explain how I was writing in it every year so that I could look back and see what I was doing one, two or three years ago. And it suddenly struck me how funny that was - explaining to a three year old that you might be interested in what happened three years ago - a whole lifetime for her - a blink of an eye for sixty year old me!

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Stealth Advertising

I was killing some time in an Apple Store on a recent business trip and started playing with an Ipad - because of course, I kind of want one. I idly pulled up our website and then thought - what a good marketing idea! I could pull it up on as many computers at the Apple Store as possible - someone just might look at it and become a new customer. Why not? So . .. I did a few and quickly realized this was not a job to do alone but with a posse of some kind. Any volunteers?

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Home Again, Home Again

Joie de Blog has been on the road a lot in the last month . . . four trips out of town in four weeks, and even though one was pleasure as opposed to business - and even though a Joie business trip is a pleasure, it was a lot of traveling and Joie de Blog is happy to be sitting in the store on a sunny Saturday afternoon, even if it's not the busiest Saturday afternoon ever. It's so relaxing to know that there are no more work trips until May - we can stay home, change some displays, catch up with things and unpack all the new stuff we ordered at the shows we've just come from. The only thing not to look forward to is doing taxes! But, I guess it means I still love my job if the prospect of being back is as exciting as the prospect of going away seemed just a few short weeks ago!

Monday, February 20, 2012

How Far the Mighty Have Fallen!

So, I am at the Philadelphia Craft Fair - a wholesale craft show where I find jewelry, kaleidoscopes, wooden puzzle boxes and many of the beautiful handmade items you see on the shelves of Joie de Vivre. I think this is the 20th winter that I have attended, before moving on to the Baltimore American Craft Council Show where I will also find a few things. Both shows are struggling. For example - where there were once 27 kaleidoscope makers exhibiting their work, this year there were only six. The show is expensive to do, flying to Philadelphia, constructing a booth, hotels, dinners, and many have decided that they can't afford it, with the economy the way it is. The craft movement is also greying, so retirement as well as economic difficulty has resulted in fewer buyers and fewer independent stores. There are curtains sectioning off part of the gigantic exhibit hall to try to minimize the way the show has shrunk, but even so, there are empty spaces in almost every aisle. This is all a very long winded (& hopefully interesting) way of introducing my title topic. I was talking to Marc Tickle, a kaleidoscope maker, and glanced across the aisle - and saw a very strange booth. It was the New York Times, another grey lady herself, "manned" by two guys trying to convince people to subscribe to the paper. ?!? Huh? At a wholesale craft fair? In the aisles with the exhibitors? How desperate are they? And why did the show management decided the New York Times was an appropriate "vendor"? I think I have a pretty good idea about question one - but question two - I intend to find out! Stay tuned . . . ..

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Another Thing We Hear a Lot . . .

Joie de Vivre is a store of extremes in some ways. A customer can come in and the place can be a madhouse . . . especially around Christmas, Valentine's Day, or a busy weekend. But during the week, we can go for an hour some days without one person walking in. And when one does, they often say "I've never been in here before when there was no one else here." I think they're partly amazed - and partly they feel a little odd or anxious being the only customer. I often feel I need to reassure them - telling them how normal it is for it to be quiet on a weekday morning when no holiday is looming . . . and I also feel what they're also wanting to hear is - this is normal, we're not going out of business anytime soon. And over the years I've noticed, some customers prefer to be here when it's relatively quiet - if it gets too noisy or hectic, they walk right out. Others love it when the sound machines are beeping, the fuzzy cow is singing, someone's trying a kazoo, and all the clocks are going off. It's just interesting how much the experience of shopping here can vary!