Businesses Well Lived: Joie de Vivre
Joie de Vivre, an “old school gift shop,” provided toys, cards, kaleidoscopes, jewelry, and a wide variety of things to Cantabrigians starting in 1984.
Joie de Vivre, an “old school gift shop,” has been providing toys, cards, kaleidoscopes, jewelry, and a wide variety of things to Cantabrigians since 1984.”Please please please don’t just say, ‘Shop small business,’ and then succumb to the deadly convenience of large impersonal megacorporations. To quote the famous sneaker ad, and put it in a small business shopping context, ‘Just do it.’ Small businesses will not make it without support from you.” – Business Owner Linda Given, Joie de Vivre
What were your experiences from the beginning to now?
I started my business because I hoped to be able to support myself in a way I felt good about. I had recently moved here from Vermont and had participated in the annual Cambridge Christmas Store, and through that experience, thought it might be possible to succeed with a year-round gift shop. A space became available next door to a jeweler friend’s studio-store, and I took the plunge and went into business for myself. What were my experiences in those 36 years? So very many – there is no way I could even begin to list them all but I’d say the highlights were the fun of sharing my finds with customers, and the fun of finding said finds. And all the wonderful people I met throughout the years, from those who worked for me, to those who walked in the door. Many became life long friends.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your business?
We saw a definite dramatic downturn – like pretty much everyone I think. We had to close for three entire months and once we reopened, could only allow four customers in the store at a time. Plus, many of our customers were by this point older, and not going out at all. We did have a website, so were able to do some curbside, but our business was not even 50% of normal until we announced we were going to close.
How does Cambridge change when small businesses close?
It becomes soulless, a significantly less interesting place to live or visit. And there is significantly less investment in the community, both financially and “spiritually,” if that is not too dramatic a term to use.
Describe what a “great day” at your business looked like before the COVID-19 pandemic.
I have to say: as a gift shop, before the pandemic, we had been suffering the effects of people’s changing shopping habits as well as the greying of our customer base. People clearly had a hard time resisting the ease of ordering from Amazon or other places, and then also, our older customers really didn’t need or want to buy as much. So I had been thinking seriously closing for the last several years. That said, a good day still happened, we still had a lot of customers who loved the store. And a good day involved a reasonable number of people coming in, talking to us, browsing, buying, playing. It was always a lot of fun.
How have your customers interacted with your business through the pandemic?
Some of them were very concerned and bought gift certificates for future use, and some called and asked for suggestions for gifts. We did a lot of mailing and sold a lot of jigsaw puzzles. Our regular customers were clearly concerned about our welfare.
What is the most vivid memory you have to share about your business through the pandemic?
I think it was of being at home on Friday night, March 13, and receiving a call from my neighbor who was a nurse at Massachusetts General Hospital. I had been thinking I should probably close to the public, and he called to tell me he thought it was time. I decided to do it a few days before Governor Baker then mandated that all non-essential stores close. And on a happier note, the Saturday after the Presidential Election, when a customer burst in to say that Biden had enough electoral votes to claim victory, and everyone in the store cheered and yelled with joy!
How do you want your business to be remembered?
As a place where you could have fun and find something great for yourself, or to give as a gift – whether you wanted to spend $5 or $500. And as a place where everyone, no matter what their budget, was treated the same. And as a place you could come in and just browse around and enjoy yourself and talk to us.
What is something you want people in the future to know about your experience?
I absolutely loved working with the public as a shopkeeper. It was incredibly rewarding in countless, countless ways. it was, in the end, sadly, diminished by the rise of corporate, cost-cutting behemoths like Amazon, but I closed it more because of how long I had done it – 36 years. I think small personal businesses can still work, even in our current reality.