William Glen was different things for different people.
The upscale specialty store was a one-stop-shop for Carole Kassis of North Sacramento: wedding gifts, housewarming gifts, holiday gifts, just-because gifts.
“Whatever you were looking for, they would have it,” Kassis says. Even a spouse, as was the case for longtime customer Isolde Brown’s son, Toran. He met his future wife when he was 9 at a William Glen cooking class.
For most people, William Glen was an enduring symbol of simpler times, a homegrown survivor of bad economies and big department chains. For Mark Snyder, the store was a family treasure. His father, Bill Snyder, co-founded the original store more than 50 years ago. But in 2010, the William Glen story became a tragedy, closing down after Bill passed away from lung cancer. The store was almost lost forever because there was no succession plan in place.
“The idea was that when he was ready to retire, I would pick up and run the business,” Mark Snyder says. “By the time he got sick, it was really too late to do anything.”
Five years later, Mark and his sister, Amy Guthrie, brought the store back to life in a new 4,100-square-foot location on Fair Oaks Boulevard across from the Pavilions shopping center. This new William Glen is reminiscent of the pre-1978 boutique store that occupied the area of Town & Country Village. It’s not as big as the popular Arden-Arcade store, but the spirit remains. Mark spends his days picking up where his father left off.
“Sometimes I have to remind myself that my dad didn’t wake up one morning in June of 1963 and have a 35,000-square-foot emporium with 100 employees,” he says. “It takes time when you start from nothing. This isn’t the William Glen that was a showpiece, but customers feel the same connection.”
That connection is one wrapped in local lore, dating back five decades. Schoolmates Bill Snyder and Glen Forbes started out selling candles to independent retailers up and down the California coast. Retail giants such as Target and WalMart didn’t exist. Niche markets were wide open. They were going to call the business Wicks and Sticks, but didn’t want to limit themselves to candles, so William Glen became the name. The inventory expanded slowly, piece by piece: from candle holders to German beer steins, then potted plants and eventually a cooking school and every conceivable cooking tool.
By the 1990s, Mark Snyder had grown up and was working in portfolio accounting and assisting in bank mergers for Wells Fargo in San Francisco. In 1997, before Forbes retired, Snyder left the world of finance to work alongside his father and learn the business.
After his father’s death, the fate of William Glen was in limbo. His father’s third wife, Terry, was the remaining trustee. Snyder tried to negotiate to keep the business open, but those negotiations ended. The recession didn’t close William Glen, he says. It wasn’t the big chains or the surge of online shopping. William Glen was a victim of “non-communication” within the family.
“It becomes taboo to talk about death, but taboos are the enemy of progress,” Snyder says. “If you haven’t had that conversation, things could get ugly.”
In 2010, Snyder left William Glen and, with his sister, went on to open two new specialty stores in Old Sacramento: Chef’s Mercantile and Christmas & Co. He could have left William Glen in the past. But he loved the business too much to let it go. In March 2013, two years after the dissolution of the corporation, the siblings filed the appropriate documents with the Secretary of State and bought the William Glen name back. They opened the new store the following year.
“Mark is picking up the pieces and carrying on the legacy,” Kassis says. “Nothing’s forever, that’s for sure. Except death and taxes, that’s forever. But everything has a circle.”
The sign from the original store hangs above Snyder’s office door. In the quiet hour before the store opens, he wipes down windows and straightens housewares. A cover of “I Will Survive” by the Puppini Sisters bounces through the speakers. Like his father, Snyder has plans to expand. A coffee bar is coming soon, along with a new patio. As the store opens, longtime customers enter to browse displays of kitchen gadgets, cookware, cutlery, tabletop and Christmas ornaments. Some shed tears. Others share stories about what William Glen was for them. For Snyder, the store has always been part of his identity.
“I remember Dad asking me once, ‘I wonder if we’re still relevant?’” he recalls in the store, looking at the portrait of Bill Snyder hanging on the wall. “It’s an important question to ask for any business: ‘Why am I here? Do I matter?’ I don’t think he ever answered his own question.” He pauses, thinking about the question for himself. “I don’t know what my future has for me, but I want to be around as long as Sacramento wants me.”