‘I know my stuff when it comes to luxury goods’

Martin Sneider draws upon decades of fashion industry experience as a novelist

Arts Martin Sneider June 2024 image

Martin Sneider was a self-proclaimed "lackluster" high school student. 

However, the fourth-generation retailer and acclaimed writer credits much of his success to his English teacher, Mr. Simpson. "Instead of giving me a bad grade on a paper, he told me to see him after class," Sneider recalled. "He said, 'You're going to rewrite this thing until you get it right.' 

"I kept rewriting, and he kept rejecting. Finally, when I turned in something that he deemed acceptable, he said, 'Never turn in anything less than this again.' He took the time to take an average student like me and realize I had potential."

Sneider, who grew up in Omaha, went on to attend the prestigious Missouri School of Journalism before following in the footsteps of the generations before him in retail. While his humble beginnings include working as a shoe salesman, he ultimately rose to president, co-CEO, and chief merchant of Edison Brothers Stores, one of the largest fashion shoe and apparel specialty chains in the U.S.

"I had a thorough grounding in retail," Sneider explained. "I grew up at the dining room table talking about beating last year's figures and how bad it was when it snowed on a big day. I think it was part of my DNA, figuratively and maybe even physically. I've always loved fashion and retail, and I was curious and hardworking."

Sneider's ties to Chicago originated when he met his wife, the late Jill Sneider, at Washington University in St. Louis. She was a Highland Park native, and he credits her for introducing him to the city's retail businesses, including Marshall Fields and Old Orchard Shopping Center. Jill, who held a Ph.D. in American literature, also suggested that her husband begin to write about his experiences. 

"She told me not to write textbook and make it a fictional book,'" he remembered. "I started cobbling together what I thought was a pretty good novel, but she rejected it just like Mr. Simpson did years ago. So, I went over it and over it again until I decided to write through the eyes of a Jewish family, the Feldmans. They were from St. Louis and ran a big chain of successful fashion shoe stores."

The story would become Sneider's first novel, Shelf Life, which was published in 2022 and went on to be an Amazon bestseller. 

Now, Sneider's second book, Amy Unbound , published in June, is the second book in the Feldman family series and tells the story of Amy Feldman, an attorney-turned-social justice advocate and wife to a CEO, who moves to Chicago to pursue a career change. 

"I'm able to talk about what Amy is dressed in with authority, whether it's a Ferragamo pair of shoes or an Akris dress," he said. "I know my stuff when it comes to luxury goods."

Sneider has sat on the Board of Directors of Harvard Business School, served as chairman of St. Louis Children's Hospital, and is a professor at Washington University's Olin School of Business. He currently splits his time between St. Louis and Chicago, and is already working on the third book of the series. In addition to writing about the fashion retail industry, he enjoys exploring the complex dynamics of Jewish families. 

"I'm comfortable writing about the Jewish experience as well as the retailing experience, so I've married the two in my books," he said.

Sneider will hold book signings at Barbara's Bookstore at Woodfield Mall on June 22 from 1-2 p.m. and at Macy's State Street on June 23 from 1-2 p.m. For more information, visit barbarasbookstores.com/event/martin-sneider or barbarasbookstores.com/event/martin-sneider-2.

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