The Book Bin: Personalized Service for More Than Three Decades

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    Thirty-five-year-old The Book Bin in Northbrook, Illinois, owned by Janis and Lex Irvine, was originally founded by Janis Irvine and three other women. Two of the partners left after one year, and Janis' husband, Lex Irvine, bought out the remaining partner 15 years ago. The store, centrally located in Northbrook Shopping Plaza, moved eight years ago into a larger space within the same mall. It now offers a large selection of general books in 2,000 square feet.

    The suburban community of Northbrook, 20 miles north of the Chicago Loop, supports the store with strong purchases of children's books and hardcover fiction. "People are always coming to the store and asking us, What should I read?" said Janis Irvine. The store's knowledgeable staff and personalized service have helped the business weather strong competition from surrounding chain stores. "About eight or nine years ago, there was an intersection right near us with a Crown, a Borders, and a Barnes & Noble, each on one corner," Irvine told BTW. Now just one of those store, Borders, remains, along with a Costco warehouse store about one mile away.

    Recommendations from The Book Bin's staff are featured on the store's website. Owner Janis Irvine is seated, third from right.

    "People want an excuse to shop here," she said lightly. "We offer a frequent readers' card; after you spend $100 in the store, you receive $10 off. I also have a table of mysteries and fiction that we discount."

    The Book Bin's owners and staff of 10 recommend titles featured on the store's website, which customers use to search for books, check out upcoming events, and order books. The Book Sense Picks lists are kept on the counter for easy reference.

    The Book Bin is known for artfully presented book baskets for baby showers and hospital visits.

    The store hosts in-store book sales to benefit local schools, and the staff holds book pick nights several times a year, where customers come to learn about the latest titles for their own enjoyment and for gift giving. Special children's events, complete with costumed characters, are held a few times a year. The Book Bin is also known for its artfully presented book baskets for baby showers and hospital visits. The store has had tremendous success with sales of small music boxes, including a matchbook box from the company Mr. Christmas that sells for $10. "We sold 750 of those one Christmas," Irvine noted.

    This past holiday season, the store received a very large order from a woman in Shanghai who was traveling to Chicago for the holidays. She wanted all her purchases wrapped and ready when she arrived, and The Book Bin's capable staff complied.

    Lex Irvine pursues some of his interests in the store: rare books and antique French lithographs. A retired insurance broker, Lex also handles all of the business' co-op claims. Because of his special relationship with the boss, Janis joked, "He comes in late and leaves early." --Nomi Schwartz