At Edmonds Bookshop in the historic town center of Edmonds, Wash., Michelle Bear refers to herself not as the owner but as “the most recent and honored caretaker.” The cozy 1,200 sq. ft. shop has been a community fixture for 51 years, with four previous sets of owners presiding: original owners Kathy and John Chapman, followed by Betty and Jim Morrow, Susan and Barry Hildebrandt, and Mary Kay Sneeringer and David Brewster, who handed the baton to Bear in January 2021.

The inviting shop carries something for everyone, with an assortment of literary fiction and nonfiction, colorful faceouts on centrally located children’s shelves, and nature books for outdoor-loving Pacific Northwesterners.

The store continues to feel like home to some of its previous caretakers. On a recent spring day, Sneeringer—who still works there—greeted visitors at the register while bookseller Elaine Mattson helped customers. Mattson has worked for every Edmonds Bookshop owner since joining as a gift wrapper at age 14.

Bear has been with the store for 17 years, as a bookseller and assistant manager. During Covid shutdowns, while she and Sneeringer were taking online orders and delivering books to customers, “I planted a seed that I’d be interested in the store when the time came for her and David to retire,” Bear says. Shortly thereafter, while working long hours in the quiet store, Sneeringer “mentioned that a longtime customer had said, ‘When you retire, what are your plans? I hope Michelle will be part of them.’ ”

That endorsement helped smooth the transition, and the community “has been absolutely amazing” since she bought the store, Bear says. “I cried every day after it all happened because I couldn’t believe it.”

The pandemic resulted in some changed procedures at Edmonds Bookshop and convinced Bear and her team to launch tie-in products—shop T-shirts, tote bags, and custom gift certificates. The shop now provides free local deliveries and offers discounts and deliveries to five regional school districts. The in-person book club offers a virtual option so members can attend remotely, and the store livestreams in-person literary events on social media.

“We like to keep options in attending open to all,” Bear says, citing a livestreamed chat between two local writers of historical fiction: Noelle Salazar (The Roaring Days of Zora Lily) and Elise Hooper (Angels of the Pacific).

Bear lights up when talking about Edmonds Bookshop’s events and partnerships, including providing reading material to children going through dependency proceedings with help from the CASA organization. At the annual June Edmonds Art Festival, Bear hosts a booth with a local literary organization, EPIC Group Writers, and throughout the year she partners with the Edmonds Center for the Arts event venue and the Edmonds Waterfront Center (for seniors) to organize programming.

Among the authors Bear has worked with is Washington novelist Shelby Van Pelt, whose Remarkably Bright Creatures concerns an insightful giant Pacific octopus. After Van Pelt visited the store last June, she and Bear took attendees on a post-reading beach walk close to the Kingston ferry dock. “The beach is just a 10-minute walk from here,” says Bear, a former park ranger and interpretive specialist at an oceanic touch tank. Van Pelt’s book provided the perfect excuse to explore Puget Sound.

Looking to the future, Bear feels “deliriously happy and so lucky to work with my colleagues, each of whom makes integral contributions.” Although 2022 had its ups and downs, Bear felt “tremendous customer support, in words and actions, that buoyed us through everyday challenges of supplies, deliveries, expenses.” She’s glad to be leading the Edmonds Bookshop into its next 50 years.

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