Tonight’s Meet a Mom, Jen Bird, has used her strong sense of community to create the wonderful world of Athena Books in Old Greenwich. Opened during the pandemic, Jen, her family, and the fabulous staff at Athena Books have made a fun and stimulating gathering place for the community, and have spent a lot of time curating the books and other items they carry to make it one of our go to Old Greenwich locations. Jen shares her favorite books (currently) and what her daughters, 7 and 9, are reading as well as how she finds time to read and balances being a bookshop owner, legal recruiter, and Mom. She also share the trends of what others are currently reading (and does confirm, that many are buying “Spare” by Prince Harry).
Can you please tell us a bit about yourself personally? Where do you live, and names/ages of kids, etc.?
I live in Riverside near the elementary school with my husband Odysseas and two daughters, Zoe (age 9) and Alexandra (age 7).
Where do you live in Greenwich and what do you love about your neighborhood? What made you decide to move there/ how long have you been there?
My husband actually grew up in Riverside, and knew the area well. When he drove me around neighborhoods in the area, I was immediately drawn to the streets around OG and Riverside schools and I loved the idea of our girls being able to walk to school. We were lucky to find a house in Riverside (around the block from where my husband grew up!) and have been here now for 5 years. What I love about Riverside and OG, as well as other neighborhoods in larger Greenwich, is that there is such a strong sense of community. I feel like I am a part of something special that others before and around me have worked hard to create.
What led you to launch Athena Books? What is your professional background and what did you do before starting Athena?
I graduated from law school many years ago and worked as a lawyer in the city for a short time before switching over to legal recruiting. About five years ago, I opened a legal search firm, Springboard Search Group, with a few partners and continue to work as a recruiter specializing in the placement of law firm and in-house attorneys. The idea for the bookstore first came to my husband and me during the pandemic, when we were home all day often reading with our daughters, and later taking trips to bookstores in other small towns as the pandemic restrictions eased. When we looked at spaces in town, we were inspired by the space we’re in now- it struck us as the perfect location for a bookstore and, with a circular space in the middle of the store, a great gathering place for the community. With my husband, who is Greek, and daughters, we landed on the name “Athena Books,” in honor of the Greek Goddess of Wisdom. Once we found the space and settled on the name, the project took off.
Can you share what separates Athena Books from other bookstores out there?
I think/hope the main thing that separates the store is that we’ve really tried to make it a fun and stimulating gathering place for the community, and have spent a lot of time curating the books and other items we carry. Over the last year, we have partnered with local schools and provided books to schools and their teachers and students, as well as hosted storytimes and other events for children. We have also held several events with authors including Emily Oster and Jennifer Palmieri, a former White House Communications Director for President Obama.
I know it’s probably hard to narrow down but what are your favorite 5 books you currently have at Athena?
This answer often changes as I read new books, but my current 5 favorites are:
- Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver (it’s brilliant!)
- The Escape Artist by Jonathan Freedland
- Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe
- Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus
- Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin
What are your kids favorite childhood books?
Both girls love to read and their interests have changed over time, but Zoe’s current favorites are:
- The City Spies series
- The Magic Misfits series
- The Ice Cream Machine
- The Spy School Series
- The War That Saved My Life
Alex’s favorites are:
- Witches by Roald Dahl
- The Sideway School series
- The Nancy Drew Diaries series
- The Berenstain Bears series
- Pippi Longstocking
How do you make time to read as a Mom?
It’s not easy! Oftentimes I find myself reading in the middle of the night while everyone else is asleep, especially if I’m reading something really good and want to finish it. I otherwise try to squeeze it in after the girls leave for school, right before bed, and on vacations.
Any big trends you are seeing in what people are reading?
This is a great question. We are finding that people who come to our store tend to coalesce around some of the national bestsellers in fiction (like Lessons in Chemistry and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow), but there will also be books by local and other authors that gain traction (like Nora Goes off Script and Undelivered: The Never-Heard Speeches that Would Have Rewritten History) and spread through the community by word-of-mouth as people read and enjoy them. Prince Harry’s memoir Spare is very popular at the moment!
What do you like most/ least about being a bookstore owner?
I love so much about it, it’s hard to pick one thing, but if I had to, I would say that I love the sense of community it brings, including talking with customers in the store and seeing them light up over a new book. I also absolutely love working with our staff – all women and young adults who live in or near Greenwich at the moment – who are so talented, funny, and generous with their time.
How do you handle the life/work juggle with kids?
The best I can! It’s not always easy, and I often feel out of balance in one area or another, but every day I wake up and try to focus on what absolutely needs to get done that day as well as chip away on other fronts.
What is your working mom mantra?
Good enough! Like a lot of moms, I work hard and want everything to be perfect, but perfection takes time (which most of us are short on) and most things don’t need to be perfect to be fun and enjoyable. When I find myself starting to spend too much time or obsess over something, I have to remind myself that it’s good enough, and time to move on or shift gears, especially if it means dropping what I am doing to spend time with my husband and kids.
Anything else you’d like to share?
So much of what I do now is the result of much smaller steps I’ve taken in the past, even when I didn’t realize at the time where exactly they would take me. I’m also incredibly grateful for the support of my family and the amazing women who work at the store and make everything there better.
We love to support local businesses. What are your fave places locally to:
Grab coffee – Joe Studio Cafe
Workout – running in the streets of OG or Riverside
Go on a date night – Sushi Bar
Go out for a girls night – Luganos
Go out to dinner as a family – Le Fat Poodle
Get your hair done – The Christopher Noland Salon
Get your nails done – Coco Nail Spa
Have fun as a family – Athena Books 🙂