Monday, May 20, 2024

The area around the cash register at Porter Square’s Joie de Vivre gift shop is a wonderland of things you didn’t know you needed. (Photo: Marc Levy)

Porter Square is losing its joy.

The businesslike square has already been increasingly encircled by long-empty storefronts from the loss of the Rod Dee Thai and Wok N’ Roll restaurants, Zoots, Radio Shack, an AT&T store, watch shop, Tibetan shop, former CrossFit gym and the never-filled space at the base of The Rand condominiums. Newtowne Grill is believed to closed permanently as well after an owner’s death.

But none of those gave the square life the same way as the latest losses: The Emack & Bolio’s ice cream shop is gone from its 700-square-foot space at the front of the Porter Square Shopping Center; and Linda Given, owner of the Joie de Vivre gift shop, announced she would shut down in the first weeks of November – the end of her carefully curated walls of kaleidoscopes and science toys and jars full of marbles, mini-Slinkys, tiny hands and even tinier animals.

A customer waits at the Emack & Bolio’s ice cream shop in Porter Square in 2017. (Photo: Ray Bernoff via Flickr)

The ice cream shop, open since July 8, 2005, was gone with little warning – but managers left a note giving its official last date as Aug. 23. “It has been our pleasure to serve you and be a part of the Cambridge community. Our lease is now expiring and, due to the current pandemic, we have made the difficult decision not to renew it,” the note says, suggesting people visit on Boston’s Newbury Street or in Charlestown.

Emack & Bolio’s 15 years, though, pales beside Given’s 36 years at 1792 Massachusetts Ave.

“I have always loved, and still love, almost everything about running this store, from finding the unexpected things we sell (as I’ve said before, you never go looking for a singing hamster or a cat paw – you just find them) to the fun of showing off the products,” Given said in her September newsletter. “But most of all, all the relationships with you wonderful customers, the wonderful people who have worked here over the last 36 years, and all the wonderful people I’ve met because I buy things from them.”

Like the ice cream shop, the coronavirus – and the uncertain future around it – was only half the story behind the closing.

“In fact, I’ve been considering doing this for several years at least, but have never been able to bring myself to actually make the decision,” Given said. “The simple truth is … we really have not been making enough money. So much has changed about retail and people’s buying habits. And then, there are only so many things anyone wants to own. I know my own house is filled up and I rarely buy things for myself anymore, and I think a lot of you are at the same point.”

The trend toward people buying online has been a factor, she said, “and personally, I do not have any interest in running a business that relies primarily on the Internet.” But pandemic-induced restrictions for her cozy sales space make the business unworkable: “Even if I wanted to stay open, with this virus still around, it wouldn’t be possible or make financial sense. I think if I was 20 years younger and mid-career, I would be more willing to take the big risk,” she said.