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.

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  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 !!