There was a recent meme about meditation that Emma Snyder, owner of The Ivy Bookshop, found particularly amusing. Its message went something like this: Instead of downloading a mindfulness app, try reading a (bleeping) book.
Think about it, she says. In our Twitter-weary world, where else but in a book can we go to think “independently, deeply and quietly” to ourselves but then emerge ready for conversation? In this way, books are a “perfect piece of technology,” she says. As points of connection, our windows to the world, they could be seen as equal to social media. Certainly, their track record is longer.
It makes a lot of sense on this Friday afternoon at The Ivy, the beloved Baltimore bookshop that has hand sold titles to readers since 2001; a steady stream of customers stroll in looking for something to devour in what is predicted to be an ice-filled weekend. It’s an admirable traffic flow for any small business but no longer surprising to Snyder, who became a partner in the business with Ed and Ann Berlin in 2017 and then assumed sole ownership earlier this year when the Berlins retired.
Readers trust their independent bookstores and are looking for additional connections in our electronically focused world, Snyder says. “Digital life doesn’t feel the same.”
Snyder, a Baltimore native who lives in Charles Village, left the city for college and a varied career that took her to both rural Louisiana and China to teach and Washington, D.C., where she oversaw the Writers in Schools program for the PEN/Faulkner Foundation before eventually becoming the organization’s executive director.
Writers in Schools matches published writers with classes to encourage pleasure reading, introduce students to contemporary authors and teach children that a book isn’t finished when an author stops writing but continues with the readers who pick up that work. “The reading experience is also a piece of the creative process,” Snyder says
The program was designed to have an impact, but it left an imprint on Snyder as much as it did on the students.
“That work was amazing. I got to be this book fairy that went around to the schools,” she says. “In a way, there’s probably continuity to what I do now.”
Snyder met the Berlins at the Baltimore Book Festival. A few years later, she mentioned to Ed that she wanted to find a way to come home to Baltimore. He floated the idea of her becoming a partner at The Ivy.
“I had never really thought about small-business ownership,” she says. “It took 15 minutes to go from being a crazy idea to ‘Oh my gosh, that’s my dream.’”
Her nonprofit background is a plus, she says, because she knows how sustainable businesses can be run with “mission and meaning in mind” and that shoppers who frequent independent bookstores look for that. She hopes to use the store to continue to promote a healthy book culture in Baltimore and make it an “engine for the community.”
The one downside to owning a bookstore is the “bewildering” number of titles that one will never read because we can’t read everything, she says. Snyder easily recalls the books that shaped her childhood, stories from Laura Ingalls Wilder, a title called “Number Stories from Long Ago” that explains how ancient people created numbers, and the “All-of-a-Kind Family” series about a Jewish family in early 20th-century New York.
In any given week, she double books, reading both a fiction and a nonfiction title. “Books are the ultimate access point” she says. “They are literally about everything.”
WHAT SHE’S WEARING:
Vintage paisley blouse, $24, vintage nylon trousers, $35, turquoise ring, $45, and orange shell earrings, Soft Blonde, $45, all at Bottle of Bread; gold bracelets, Blue Sky, $12 each, Hunting Ground
MODEL: Emma Snyder; PHOTOGRAPHER: David Stuck; ART DIRECTOR: Ebony Brown; STYLIST: Jessica Gregg; MAKEUP: Ida M. Slaughter
LOCATION: The Ivy Bookshop