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Meet Danielle Mullen of Athenaeum Bookstore in River North

Today we’d like to introduce you to Danielle Mullen.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
My love of books-of words, rather-has always been present. I remember the excitement that reading the dictionary as a child would bring to me. Like ‘Wow, all of these words actually exist, and I can use them!’. So, I’ve always known that I’d go into an industry where I could put that love to good use.

I began copyediting in college and freelanced in whatever city I happened to be living in for about five years. In building my freelance network, I was able to join the Barnes and Noble NY team and had the pleasure of working directly with all kinds of authors. I got to edit their work, build their brand, and figure out how best to market them.

Upon moving to Chicago, I decided to tie my love for words and art together so I started a company that focused on writing for museum art. We grew really quickly and within three years, we were working in about 52 museums all over the country!

When that got a little too heavy to handle, I decided to focus on following my dream and creating the space I’d always wanted to-a bookstore that felt and functioned as a library, with a great bar inside! That’s where I am now. We open in April 2019, but we’ve been participating in book festivals and pop-up shops to get people interested in everything we have going on. It’s super exciting for me to be able to create the space that I want to work in for the rest of my life!

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
It has been anything but smooth, haha! The major struggle has been finding a space for what I want to create. Chicago retail real estate is fast-paced and expensive, which I expected. What I did not expect is the incredibly thorough vetting process just to lease a space. Even with financials and everything else in perfect order, it has been really difficult to find a landlord willing to take a chance on leasing their 20,000+ square foot space to someone who is relatively ‘unknown’.

The obvious solution to that is to team up with a big name company or investor to back the project, but I am set on self-financing and not allowing any investor to control more than 30% of my concept. So, while the offers have come in, I have chosen to build my own rapport with people as opposed to having to lean on someone else. We finally found a space and the slow process has really affected our intended timeline, but I’m glad to finally be moving forward!

Please tell us about Athenaeum Bookstore.
Athenaeum is a bookstore and bar that focuses on ambiance and customer comfort. We operate on a membership model, which allows customers to ‘check out’ books that they find interesting, and either bring them back or purchase them directly from their app.

I am known for my creative pursuits and am putting my creative network to good use for the sake of this business, haha! I have artists doing pieces specifically for our space, designers providing customized furniture for us, and authors who are ready and willing to call our store their home once opened.

Think Soho House vibes, WITH books. That’s our intended aesthetic. I guess I’m most proud of the way that our team has been able to adjust to the constant changes in the timeline, in the marketing process, and in a creative process. I love working with a group who is able to just go with the flow, understanding that things always work out exactly as they should.

Also, as of January 1, 2019, the publishing sector of Athenaeum, Inc (Deviceful Muse-www.devicefulmuse.com) is up and running in Pilsen and has began printing. It focuses on publishing and printing minority authors.

Do you look back particularly fondly on any memories from childhood?
My favorite memory from childhood is book fair time at school. We’d get that catalog and I’d run home, count whatever allowance I’d saved up, and figure out how to make my Berenstain Bears purchases happen! Beyond those, getting a library card made me incredibly happy. My mom was super creative so whatever books my siblings and I brought home from the library, she’d make us cool little snacks that went along with the theme of the books. Gummy worms in ‘dirt’, ants on a log, and sailboats made out of fruit were some of my favorite creations.

Pricing:

  • Entry Level Membership-Check Out 3 books at a time-$25/month
  • Second Tier Membership-Check Out 5 books at a time plus a glass of wine-$50/month
  • VIP Membership-Check Out 8 books at a time, enjoy special access to VIP area (including separate top-shelf VIP bar) and rent out conference room space within the store-$125/month

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