Next March, the Edmonds Bookshop will celebrate its 50th anniversary. From its storefront in the heart of downtown Edmonds, the bookstore has consistently served its community, carrying roughly 25,000 new and used titles in a well-appointed space.
Edmonds Bookshop has changed ownership four times over the past half-century. Current owners Mary Kay Sneeringer and David Brewster bought the store two decades ago. “We met about 40 years ago working at University Book Store, and have been in books one way or another ever since,” Sneeringer says over the phone.
This fall, the bookstore will change hands one more time before it officially turns 50. Sneeringer and Brewster are planning to retire and hand the reins of the store to Michelle Bear, an assistant manager and 15-year Edmonds Bookshop employee.
Sneeringer said she had no doubt Bear should be the new owner of the bookstore. “We knew we would try to make it work for Michelle, who’s been so key to our success over the last few years. Luckily we had a couple of community members who stepped up and are willing to back [Bear],” Sneeringer explains. The paperwork is expected to be signed this fall.
Bear, who worked as a bookseller in Illinois for a decade before moving to the area 20 years ago, is deeply committed to both the bookstore and Edmonds.
“When customers come in, they know their sections, and they let us know what books they’d like to see,” Bear says. “It’s very much a community effort, and a community hub.” That support has always been there, but she says during the pandemic, “Edmonds has helped sustain our kind of small but mighty shop, and that means so much to us.”
Bear takes special pride in the shop’s “robust regional section,” which features travel guides, local history books and books about Indigenous history. Customers have also helped shape the shop’s impressive cookbook section, they’ve requested more Spanish-language editions, and Bear says the children’s section keeps “shifting and changing based on what folks are looking for,” even growing to include a cozy annex off to the side where kids can curl up with a new favorite. The shop’s biography section has doubled in size over the past few years due to customer demand, too.
Bear says she has some new ideas for Edmonds Bookshop once she takes over, but she wants to give the store’s employees and customers plenty of time to adjust. Sales are good, and there’s no need to rush. Before anything else changes, Edmonds Bookshop needs to restore the regular operations that were paused or changed during the pandemic. Customers and booksellers have been meeting for store book clubs over Zoom for the past year and a half, and they’re beginning to experiment with blended in-person and online book club events heading into the fall.
Eventually, once authors begin to travel again and people feel more comfortable gathering in small spaces for readings, Bear says the store will resume its traditional schedule of five or six events a month. Bear is proud that legendary local author Ivan Doig always hosted book launch readings at Edmonds Bookshop, and she hopes other authors in the Edmonds area will continue to think of the store as their home base.
Taking over a bookstore is more than just managing the staff of seven and making sure new books show up on time. Bear is also becoming the custodian of Edmonds Bookshop’s lengthy history. Luckily, Edmonds Bookshop enjoys a living history that Bear can tap into for guidance as she takes over the day-to-day operations. Sneeringer says “the shop’s original owner, Kathy Chapman, is still a customer at the bookstore.” And Susan Hildebrandt, who was the third owner, has worked at Edmonds Bookshop for 30 years.
“Another one of our employees has worked for every owner,” Sneeringer says. Soon after Edmonds Bookshop opened, Elaine Mattson “started working at 14 as a gift wrapper. She’s a part-time employee, but she builds our website for us and built our kitchen remodel, so she wears many hats.” Those decades of bookselling experience and institutional memory will help ensure the shop’s continuity as it begins its next 50 years under Bear’s leadership.
Sneeringer is looking forward to enjoying her retirement with Brewster, but the moment will also mark a transition away from two decades of personal history. “We have two daughters who both worked here through their teen years,” she says. Owning Edmonds Bookshop “turned out to be a great thing for our family — though I was afraid at the time it was going to destroy our family.”
One particular memory is coming back to Sneeringer a lot lately — one of the store’s raucous “Harry Potter” midnight book release parties happened to fall on the 16th birthday of their older daughter. “She had gotten her driver’s license that day,” Sneeringer explains, “so at 12:30 or 1 in the morning, when we were all closing up from the big party, she and our younger daughter got in the family van and drove off as David and I stood on the sidewalk and watched them go. That was a big day for us.”
In the end, Sneeringer thinks the bookstore is more important than the name of the person who pays the bills. “When we first bought the store, I would drive by it and think, ‘That’s my bookstore. I own all the books in that bookstore,’” she says. “But then very quickly I came to realize, ‘No, this customer has been shopping here for 20 years before me — it’s her bookstore,’” Sneeringer says. “The bookstore is only here because of the people in town who’ve made a choice to buy books from us. And that was a real switch in my thinking. Realizing that the bookstore belongs to Edmonds as much as it belongs to me was crucial.”
What books are Edmonds Bookshop customers reading?
Sneeringer, the outgoing owner of Edmonds Bookshop, says that the ultrapopular Northwest bestseller “Braiding Sweetgrass” sent her on “sort of a weird track, where you pick up one book and it leads to another, and then another.” In search of another book about the relationship between people and plants, she read “Seed to Dust” by Marc Hamer, about “a man who was formerly homeless and later in his life settles down and ends up working on an estate in England. He loves tinkering around in the garden and muses on life and plants and their life cycles.” That book led her to “The Seed Keeper” by Diane Wilson, which is a novel about “a Native American woman who is the latest in a long line of women who saved seeds for the future.”
Bear, the next in a long line of owners of Edmonds Bookshop, says that the illustrated history book “Edmonds, The First Century,” is a perennial store bestseller. And former Seattle Times wine columnist Tom Stockley’s cookbook, “A Collection of My Favorite Things to Cook,” appeals to Edmonds Bookshop customers who “have a lot of interest in cooking and food — local food and world cuisine, and its effects on health and on the soul.”
Edmonds Bookshop’s staff will often get each other excited about new books. One title that found near-unanimous praise among the staff was Maggie O’Farrell’s novel “Hamnet,” which has been on the store’s bestseller list from its day of publication last summer. Bear is proud that Edmonds Bookshop was “a big supporter” of the book before it won the prestigious Women’s Prize for Fiction, which rocketed it to worldwide fame.