Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Linda Given with a classic Joie de Vivre item. (Photo: Linda Given)

Joie de Vivre, Cambridge’s main source for finger puppets, wind-up Nunzillas. mustache assortments and emergency bowties, kaleidoscopes and blank-inside cards, closed its doors two and a half years ago during the Covid pandemic and yet is for sale – this time in softcover.

“The Book of Joie, or a Thousand Singing Hamsters,” written by shopkeeper Linda Given, is a 324-page history of the 1792 Massachusetts Ave., Porter Square, shop from its origins in 1984 to its shutdown in November 2020. Sales reps are pitching it to local booksellers, Given said Friday, and it can be preordered now through any of them. Readers will also find it on bookshop.org as of Thursday.

“As long as they don’t go to Amazon,” said Given, whose book explores the impact of the online retail giant on small businesses such as hers. “It might be there, but promoting that would be like writing a vegan cookbook and serving steak to celebrate.”

There is a release party for the book planned for June, and it doubles as an “official closing party” for Joie de Vivre that gives her former storefront customers “finally, a chance to raise a glass together and reminisce” as well as readings, speeches, surprises and a raffle. The number of customers RSVP’ing to attend is already getting unwieldy.

The Joie de Vivre shop as it was at 1792 Massachusetts Ave., Porter Square. (Photo: Linda Given)

The book revives the fun of the store with its “world of clever, beautiful, original and just plain wacky items – all designed to delight, enchant or give pleasure through the unexpected,” and gives its history from beginning to end: “an inside look at the joys, trials, lessons and surprises of running a small business. Stories of customers, employees, suppliers, gift shows and singing hamsters fill these pages, as well as the changes and challenges all small businesses encountered as the Internet and smartphones transformed the retail world.”

Discussing the book briefly by phone, Given said the process of writing “The Book of Joie” over the past years didn’t bring to light anything she should have – or could have – done differently to result in a different outcome.

“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 a newsletter in 2020, explaining why the pandemic was le mort du Joie de Vivre. “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.”

With the book finished, her next move after the party is unclear, and “exactly what I’m look forward to finding out,” Given said. Writing books that are not about retail is a possibility, but also retail consulting – or maybe starting a line of cards, or maybe even fighting the oncoming catastrophe of artificial intelligence tech.

“I’m trusting that just as I had no idea what I wanted to do before Joie de Vivre, something will come to me,” Given said.