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Puzzle Proprietors Find Their Nook

  Summer/Fall 20

When constructing a new business, some assembly is required. There are multiple pieces, and they all have to fit together nicely. Kind of like, say, a jigsaw puzzle.  

Joyful Nook Gallery opened in 2017 in downtown Durango offering a unique product. Its jigsaw puzzles are made of wood, and the breathtaking puzzle designs are created mostly by local painters and photographers. These brilliant and colorful works emphasize fun, yet double as works of art.

In three years, the gallery has shifted its business model to better reach its customers and meet the demands it has found in sometimes surprising places. With its craft established, Joyful Nook’s focus is now on keeping up with a growing demand. 

“No one taught us how to do this,” said co-founder and co-owner Joy Hess during a recent tour of the expanded store and production facility at 546 East College Drive, its home since fall 2019. “It’s not an easy process. It has been blood, sweat and tears.”

Their state-of-the-art machines and smooth production system belie a simpler start—one that saw them not only burn puzzles but set a laser afire. “We have it pretty dialed in now,” Hess said of the puzzle process. 

The business has grown and diversified, making it possible to move off the original 640 Main Avenue location, where a steady flow of visitors was guaranteed. The new facility, and the new business model, is more geared toward production. Although the College Drive location is still a retail space, Joyful Nook sells its puzzles in numerous Durango locations, such as Animas Trading Co., Maria’s Bookshop, and Karen Gabaldon Arts. They’re also available online, either at their own website or on Amazon.

The business is the dream of two neighbors linked by jigsaw puzzles. Joy Hess is familiar to many as an energetic fundraiser who, through her job with Mercy Health Foundation, has helped the development of a new hospital as well as hospice and breast care centers. Joyful Nook co-founder and co-owner Christine Mullholand, a highly successful software developer and entrepreneur in southern Indiana, moved to Durango a few years ago.

The new neighbors started sharing puzzles, wine, and business ideas. The vision grew, then became reality. They enlisted local artists—painters and photographersand created puzzles based on their work. The wooden puzzles feature interesting and whimsical pieces shaped like animals, trees, or objects, such as a train car. 

Wooden jigsaw puzzles are said to date from 1760, when a cartographer cut a wooden map into country sections and used it to teach geography. In the 21st century, Joyful Nook Gallery has taken wooden puzzles to another level. They offer puzzles that you can color yourself, large floor puzzles for the whole family to construct, and custom puzzles featuring photos or other artwork of your choice. One man even used a puzzle to propose to his sweetheart.

Opportunities continue to arise for Joyful Nook Gallery, and Hess and Mullholand ponder how to take on these new business challenges. It’s really just a matter of fitting it all together. and

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