Photos courtesy of William Glen

Photos courtesy of William Glen

The Gift Shop That Keeps On Giving

After years in limbo, William Glen returns with the old spirit for a new generation

Back Web Only Sep 11, 2015 By Russell Nichols

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.

Mark Snyder circa 2011 in the Chef’s Mercantile store located at 116 K Street in Old Sacramento.

Mark Snyder circa 2011 in the Chef’s Mercantile store located at 116 K Street in Old Sacramento.

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.”

Glen Forbes and William (Bill) Snyder circa 1966 pictured with authentic German beer steins in their Town & Country Village store.

Glen Forbes and William (Bill) Snyder circa 1966 pictured with authentic German beer steins in their Town & Country Village store.

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.”

Comments

Nancy Huish (not verified)September 16, 2015 - 6:38pm

I began going to William Glen in the early 1970s, and both Bill and Glen were priceless gems. I think every wedding gift, baby gift, birthday gift, Christmas gifts, I purchased from the 70s until their closing was from William Glen. If I needed something really special, I went to Bill for his advice. I even remember being there one afternoon when Mark was a high school student working behind the checkout counter at the front, and he called to Bill and told him that he was going to leave to pick Amy up at school. I loved it, as Bill truly passed on his values and ethics to his children. It does my heart good to know that with their deep affection and admiration for their father, that they have been convinced to start the new chapter in the beautiful saga that is William Glen. Kudos to Mark and Amy, and may the new store reign as long as the original one did!

Nancy Hoey (not verified)September 16, 2015 - 7:31pm

I can't wait to visit the new store. I have spent way too many hours browsing around the Town and Country location trying to decide what to buy with my annual gift certificate (coins in a lovely velvet pouch). I was so sad when Bill passed away and then the store closed. Best of luck to Mark and Amy.

Nancy Hoey (not verified)September 16, 2015 - 7:35pm

I can't wait to visit the new store and new location. I spent many hours wandering around the Town and Country location trying to decide what to spend my annual gift certificate (that lovely velvet pouch with gold coins) on. I still have all of those treasures. I was so sad when Bill passed away and the store ultimately closed. Best of luck to Mark and Amy.

Candi Krogh (not verified)September 17, 2015 - 8:09am

I worked at the Village Donut Shop across the alley from the first store way back when. After retiring you Dad went to work for Bill & Glen for 20 years. Best job he ever had he would always say.

VisitorDavid Dillon (not verified)July 6, 2017 - 7:16pm

worked for william glen 8+ years and it is a piece of sacramento history.
the internet just does not have what it is like to see, touch, handle, the item before buying it!!!!!!!

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