By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Bina Valenzano has never been afraid to change the course of her life. As a student at the Fashion Institute of Technology a decade ago, she realized that the competitive, cutthroat nature of the fashion world didn’t mesh with her gentle nature.
“I wasn’t passionate about fashion," she said. "If you’re not passionate about it, it can eat you up alive."
She decided to stay at FIT, but switched her major, earning her bachelor’s degree in marketing and communications.
“I remember taking a course on the psychology of the consumer, learning how people are enticed to buy certain products. It was really interesting,” she said.
Valenzano is putting her knowledge of marketing and communications to good use as co-owner, along with her friend Christine Freglette, of the BookMark Shoppe at 8415 Third Ave. in Bay Ridge. The store hosts appearances by noted writers and personalities, including Buddy “Cake Boss” Valastro and New York Giants star Victor Cruz.
Valenzano and Freglette are active members of the Merchants of Third Avenue, Valenzano as the driving force behind “Summer Stroll on 3rd,” a four-night event that began on July 20 and also takes place on July 27, Aug. 10 and Aug. 17.
For “Summer Stroll on 3rd,” an eight-block area of Third Avenue, from 82nd Street to 89th Street, will be turned into a pedestrian plaza (no cars allowed), where people can stroll the avenue, enjoy performances by dance troupes, bluegrass bands and opera companies, sip a cappuccino in an outdoor café, and enjoy a beautiful summer night.
“It has been a lot of work, but it has been worth it,” she said during an interview at the BookMark Shoppe.
How Valenzano arrived at this place in her life illustrates her willingness to stay true to herself and to change course when she finds it necessary.
Valenzano, who skipped a grade in John Dewey High School, was only 16 when she entered FIT. Six years later, at the age of 22, she was working at an advertising agency, Heitner Weiss, handling ads for such high-profile clients as Lazare Diamonds.
“But I wasn’t happy. I had an expense account. I was eating dinner in great restaurants, going to see Broadway shows. It wasn’t fulfilling,” she recalled.
So, just as she changed her major, she changed her life.
A casual conversation with her friend Freglette led to the opening of the BookMark Shoppe.
“Christine and I have been friends all of our lives. We were up late talking one night and Christine said, 'We should open a children’s bookstore.' Then we thought of opening a bookstore for everyone, not just children,” Valenzano said.
The two women got start-up money from their families and opened the store in December 2002.
“We made a million mistakes when we were starting out, but we kept going,” Valenzano said.
She is grateful that her late mother, Antonia Valenzano, a seamstress, got to see the start of her exciting new career as a bookstore owner. Her mother was diagnosed with cancer just two months after the store opened, and died in within the year.
“I think she’s up there looking out for me. I like to think she’s proud of me,” Valenzano said, her eyes filling with tears.
Valenzano and Freglette know their customers’ taste and are savvy about marketing the bookstore.
“The days of sitting around and waiting for the customer to walk through the door are over," Valenzano said. "You have to go out there and attract the customer. We try very, very hard to keep up a good relationship with our customers."
Bay Ridge residents tend to favor mass-market books, biographies and memoirs, she said.