Asked if she specializes in a particular genre of books at The Book Bin, store manager Allison Mengarelli says, no—she reads everything.
And the variety on a bookstore's shelves is key to the experience, Mengarelli added. "It's about discovering new things, finding something you didn't know even existed," she said.
As store manager, Mengarelli must be familiar with everything in stock. She also oversees orders of more than 300 books each week, occasionally hosts discussions and serves regular customers with a smile—a job she has held since a junior in high school.
The Northbrook native began working at The Book Bin in 1992 and worked part time for two years before she headed off to North Park University in Chicago. After college, she moved to Georgia, where she worked for a large book wholesaler. In taking phone orders, she solidified her relationship with Book Bin owner Janice Irwin, who happened to be one of her wholesale customers.
In 1999, about the time The Book Bin was moving into its current location on Church Street, Irwin asked Mengarelli if she would become the store's manager. So Mengarelli moved back home, took the job, and has been acting manager ever since.
Although The Book Bin was originally opened in the 1970s by four women business partners, Irwin and Sue Warner took the helm in 1971 when the four original owners moved out of town for one reason or another. Both women ran the store for 20 years until Warner retired in 1990, when Janice took sole ownership. Most of the women staff at The Book Bin have worked there since about that time.
"We are family," said Mengarelli. "It feels like home."
In fact, The Book Bin features a fireplace and cozy chairs, where monthly book discussions are held. In the children's section, there is a miniature train that runs on an overhead track.
Although the store's adult book discussions are typically conducted by Sheila Whalen, Mengarelli sometimes fills in. In October, Mengarelli will be directing a discussion on The Angel's Game, the latest novel by Carlos Ruiz Zafon.
Besides helping with book discussions and placing wholesale orders, Mengarelli is also responsible for updating the store's website with best-sellers, new books and staff picks.
This holiday season, the website will have a link to Google Editions, a digital bookstore that allows customers to buy digital copies of books online through their local bookstore as well as through Google.
"Through our website, customers will be able to purchase e-books for all digital readers, with the exception of Kindle," said Mengarelli. " We're very excited about that."
The store also plans to soon link to a new web store so customers can buy music and videos.
Mengarelli's communication responsibilities don't stop with the website: she's also formats the store newsletter. "Janice writes it, and the coolest thing about the letter is how personally it comes across," she said. "We feel as if our customers are just an extension of our Book Bin family."
Mengarelli sings the praises not just of the store but also of its role in the local economy: "It's such a ripple effect," she said. "Sales tax benefits your community, the schools and park districts become better, property value increases. It's really important."