Athenaeum Book Bar is a bookshop, library and members' club in one

Athenaeum Book Bar is a bookshop, library and members' club in one

A Chicago-based author and editor redesigns the bookshop for the creative co-working generation.


The pitch

Athenaeum Book Bar is a Chicago-based bookshop concept that aims to better caters to the needs of modern readers. Focusing on customer experience as well as technological ease, Athenaeum looks to create a comfortable space where both avid readers and eccentric creatives can network, relax, read and buy. Customers can either drop in, browse and buy, as in a traditional bookshop, or subscribe to one of four membership packages that allow readers to ‘check out’ books like a library, drink and socialise in exclusive members' rooms, and use an on-site meeting space.

The team

The concept for Athenaeum was created ten years ago by Danielle Mullen, who worked in client relations for Barnes & Noble in New York. "As a professional writer and editing consultant, I fell in love with words at a very young age and haven’t been able to escape their grasp yet," she says. 

What's the gap in the market? 

Mullen's own experiences as an editor and freelancer led her to spot an opportunity for a space that bridged the gap between library, bookshop and co-working space.

"In working with authors, I noticed that when it came to working away from the office, we basically had two choices," she explains. 'A bar, which made for great people-watching but wasn’t ideal for working; or a library, which yielded better results for work but typically didn’t have a ‘cool’ factor, or anything to watch or listen to in moments of distraction. I hoped to create a concept that would offer a solid middle ground… and that would generally be a cool place to chill during the day."

Success so far?

"The most progress thus far has been getting people to wrap their minds around the concept," Mullen laughs. "For some reason, people struggle to put ‘bookstore’ and ‘cool’ in the same sentence, but our marketing team has worked really hard to get people excited about a concept that they’ve never even experienced."

Biggest challenges?

Mullen found that the biggest challenge, by far, was finding a suitable space. "Twenty thousand feet is a big investment!" she sighs. "We had so many deals fall apart simply because I refused to have a big name back me in order to make landlords feel more comfortable with such a new concept in their space."

Ultimate ambition?

Ultimately, Mullen would like to franchise the concept to five or six cities. "Not enough to oversaturate the market, but enough to make Athenaeum a must-visit spot in the cities where it’ll be located."

Advice to other publishing entrepreneurs?

"Nobody knows what you do, and that’s your strong suit! People may or may not flock to your idea, initially, but sometimes we in the industry know a little better than investors or even potential customers what will work well. Trust yourself."