Mary Kay: The woman behind the Edmonds Bookshop

David Brewster and Mary Kay Sneeringer at the reopening of the Edmonds Bookshop on March 1, 2001. (Photo courtesy Mary Kay Sneeringer)

Life is changing for Mary Kay Sneeringer, former owner and now part-time staff at the beloved Edmonds Bookshop. For the past 20 years, Mary Kay has shared her love and knowledge of books with us, the people of Edmonds. 

If you want a book she didn’t have, never fear. Mary Kay will order it for you. Pronto! 

Wonder what a certain someone might like to read? Mary Kay pulled suggestions out of her vast mental store of book ideas to help you make the perfect choice. She’d even gift-wrap it.

How it all began…

A love of books and bookstores found Mary Kay working at the University Bookstore near the University of Washington. After all, there’s no happier place to be than one surrounded by books. 

Another booklover, Dave Brewster, also worked there. They met, married, had two kids and moved to Boston, where Dave worked as a publisher’s representative while Mary Kay raised the kids. After all, they were in complete agreement as to the silly notion of ever owning their own bookstore. Not in this lifetime.

Seven years later, they came back to live in Edmonds. Mary Kay got a job at a bookstore in Wallingford, once again happily surrounded by books. Dave worked at Starbucks in their books and CDs department.

One day, a palm reader at the annual Starbucks Christmas party noticed that Mary Kay’s career line broke in the middle, and that it crossed deeply with her success line. The palm reader suggested Mary Kay start her own business. Mary Kay looked at her and laughingly replied, “Yeah, right, I should buy a bookstore.”

Two days later, choosing a nicer-than-usual wine for Christmas Eve was on the errand list. Mary Kay wanted to support downtown Edmonds, so shopped at Arista Wine Cellars, which was then located next to the Starbucks at 5th and Main. 

While walking past the Edmonds Bookshop, she noticed a sign in the window: “This establishment is for sale”. 

On a whim, Mary Kay went in to ask for details. The business had been for sale for a while, but the right person had yet to come along. Since Mary Kay had been working as a book seller already, then-owner Susan (who still works at the Edmonds Bookshop today) felt the right person had come along, at last.

Over the holidays, Mary Kay and Dave went back and forth, yes or no, hemmed and hawed, wondered about the effect on the kids. As we all know now, they decided to go for it. On March 1, 2001, they took over.

Or did they? One early discovery for the new owners was how the Edmonds Bookshop truly belonged to the people who already shopped there. They were the true “owners” of the bookshop. Regulars came in and laid claim to their shopping heritage and let Mary Kay know it was going to continue that way.

While preparing her first business plan, Mary Kay noted that her customers were “people who read.” After meeting her customers, that notion changed to “people who buy and read books in this area.” Shortly thereafter, it changed again to “people who read and buy books at full price in this area.” That narrowed the customer base down to a very small number in a hurry. But they were there.

When big box stores invited customers to take a photo of a book and send it to them, offering a $5 coupon in return, that ticked off a lot of Mary Kay’s customers, who then came in to proudly buy their books from her instead, at full price.

Some of Mary Kay’s happiest memories revolve around her bookshop parties. The Harry Potter book release parties at midnight. The Waldo parties. The “Guess Which Plant” parties where a wrong guess awarded the “winner” some nightshade!

What advice would the Mary Kay of today offer to the Mary Kay of 20 years ago? 

“If I had known how much ‘giving’ comes back to you, at the start, I would have been less fearful,” she said. “When I first took over the store, all these people came in asking for donations and auction items, and I just wondered ‘How can I do this?’ Then at some point it occurred to me that the more people I say ‘yes’ to, the more people would then have a connection to the bookstore. They came in asking for help and I said ‘yes…’ That really was a revelation. I wish I had known that from the beginning.”

It is now 20 years later, and Mary Kay and the Edmonds Bookshop survived 9/11, the Great Recession, big box bookstore $5 discounts, Amazon’s takeover of book sales, the massive adoption of e-books, and now a pandemic. 

What does the future hold? 

“Now I get to read books in daylight hours!” Mary Kay quipped. 

Mary Kay is also looking forward to getting her garden under control. One other great piece of news is that her first grandchild is due in January!

She will also continue to work as a staff member at the Edmonds Bookshop and be surrounded by her beloved books, ready to answer more questions from us all.

— By Manya Vee

 

12 Replies to “Mary Kay: The woman behind the Edmonds Bookshop”

  1. Thank you for this lovely article, Manya. I must ask for a correction though. David and I have only 2 daughters. Juliet moved with us to Boston as a newborn.

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    1. I so enjoyed this article. So now Mary Kay just works part time and no longer owns Edmonds Books?
      So the store just sold? I didn’t know that…
      So, a seamless transition.
      I love Edmonds Books. I am happy Mary Kay has more of her own time to enjoy.

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  2. We so enjoyed this wonderful story about Dave and Mary Kay! Over the years we have shared stories of our kids growing up and now too we have a grandson! We love and will continue to support the Edmonds Bookshop and NEVER worry about paying full price!

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  3. Dave and Mary Kay represent the best of a local business that truly cares about Edmonds. and all book lovers. They’ve given writers so much support as well as created great books selections. I’m glad they will still be part of the book shop and Edmonds.

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  4. As a Board member of the Friends of the Library, I would like to send a big thank-you to Mary Kay. The Friends has enjoyed a wonderful collaborative relationship with the Edmonds Bookshop for many years. As far back as 1982 the Edmonds Bookshop supported our Library by holding a special open house for the newly built library. They donated all net proceeds that day towards the purchase of furniture. We have had the privilege of having Mary Kay as guest speaker at many of our member meetings. As recently as this last week the Friends has purchased kid’s books from the Edmonds Bookshop for the Library’s Summer Reading Program. Thank-you so much to both Mary Kay and the Edmonds Bookshop for being a longtime friend to our organization. Best of luck to you as you move on to new challenges.

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  5. Happy to know the backstory on the adventures of Mary Kay and David.

    And I can vouch for her ability to help out in cases like this: “Wonder what a certain someone might like to read? Mary Kay pulled suggestions out of her vast mental store of book ideas to help you make the perfect choice.”
    So many successful book gifts came from Mary Kay’s book-choice skill!

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  6. Edmonds wouldn’t be Edmonds without our bookstore! Thanks Mary Kay and David for all you do to make our community such a wonderful place to live and for those who visit.

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  7. When we first moved to Edmonds, I would take my daughter there and we would and she would find a shiny hologram book that she just loved for many years. Now that she’s a teenager she still loves to go in and look at all the used and new books. Having a bookstore in your community is one of the greatest gift you will ever have in life. We are thankful for all the time and energy it takes to maintain and give back to the community the way she has for Edmonds!

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  8. The Bookshop is a true community treasure. Thank you, Mary Kay and David, for stewarding it so well for these many years! And we really enjoyed chatting with you during all those youth sports events when our kids were young. David, don’t forget: You’re Still A Young Man…. 😉

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  9. Great story about a magical couple! Thank you David and MK for helping fulfill the needs and wishes of over 160 young book lovers for the Rotary – CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate-Snohomish County) Literacy Project! It was so successful that we will be providing another batch of book request. Volunteers are delighted that they can leave these diverse books with these kids and teens to read over and over….and it truly is a cherished gift.

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  10. Dear Mary Kay:
    You ARE Edmonds! Thank you for your loving service to this community all these years. Now go have a ton of fun in your newfound and well deserved freedom!
    All good wishes to you and Dave,
    Judy Chermak

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