Some people only ever dream of opening an independent bookstore in a small town, but for Rudolph Girls Bookstore co-owners Nikki Rhodes and Ali King, that dream became a reality. Not only is this duo new business partners, but they are also sisters, naming their store after their shared maiden name.
“We joke, like, thirty years ago, if you would have told our mother who raised us as a single parent, ‘hey, you know, those two are going to own a business together,’ she would have laughed you out of the room,” said Rhodes.
Rhodes and King both served as career teachers for several years. King taught mostly middle and high school while Rhodes taught elementary aged grades, both focusing on ELA and reading. After a school year like no other, they decided to try something new and see if it was possible to open a small business in Westminster.
“The school year for teachers was difficult, but we just decided that it was something that we wanted to do and that felt like we could do, so we started looking into it to see what the possibilities would be. We got a lot of great feedback and support from other booksellers across the country. The rest is history. We just made it happen,” said Rhodes.
As they switched gears towards opening the bookstore, Westminster turned out to be the perfect place to support that dream.
“We love Westminster. We both live here, we love the downtown area and the other small businesses here, and it’s just such a vibrant and kind of upcoming area and we just really wanted to be a part of it,” said Rhodes.
Although the shop opened recently, they are already immersing themselves in the downtown community. Rudolph Girl’s book club meets at American Ice Co. Café and just held their first meeting this past Sunday. Members settled into the upstairs conference room to enjoy cafe treats and discuss the featured book, The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave.
“That has been a wonderful partnership,” said Rhodes.
They also host a story time every Sat. at 9 a.m. with the Downtown Westminster Farmers Market, and intend to kick off more book clubs with the Boys and Girls Club on Main Street soon to help get Club members excited about reading.
“We feel like we’re already very much plugged in to the downtown small business scene, but we’re always looking for other ways to partner with other businesses in the area,” said Rhodes.
Although opening a new business during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has its challenges, Rhodes remains optimistic.
“We think we opened at the exact right time. Obviously, we’re still in a pandemic, however I feel like after almost a year and a half of people being in their homes and reflecting on what they think is important, people are ready to get out into their community and support small business,” said Rhodes.
For those who may still be nervous about shopping in person, Rudolph Girls offers alternatives such as private shopping appointment availability, ordering books online, over the phone and via curbside pickup.
“We want to celebrate the fact that everyone is heading back out into the world, but we also want to be sensitive to the fact that some people, for whatever reason, whether it’s personal or medical, might not be ready for that yet. If they’re not, then we still have a way to get them their books,” said Rhodes.
Rhodes also notes the importance and specialness of being in a physical bookstore, especially in a college town. For Rudolph Girls, this means creating a cozy, welcoming environment and the opportunity to get lost amidst the books.
“It’s the getting to hold the books, look at the front cover, look at the back cover, compare books, and talk to people who might also be in the shop at the same time or talk to Ali or I about the books that they’re reading…those are things that you can’t really get at home sitting on your couch scrolling through an eBook menu,” she said.
Although small in size, Rudolph Girls offers a curated selection of various books from non-fiction to folklore, as well as stickers, journals, tote bags, and even t-shirts. Family ties are prominent throughout, from the framed family wall of photos in the back of the shop to Rhodes and King’s interactions around the store.
“We compliment each other really well. If you come in here while we’re working here at the same time, you’ll probably find us behind the counter joking, laughing about something, or being super ridiculous,” said Rhodes.
When it comes to the Hill, Rudolph Girls wants students to know that they are here and open for business.
“We can special order books! We have had a couple of McDaniel students so far who have sent us their reading lists for the school year, and we’re able to fill those orders right here,” said Rhodes.
“I feel like a local bookstore in a college town is a pretty standard expectation for most college kids, and there hasn’t been a local bookstore in Westminster for many years. For a college town, we’ve got a lot to offer, so we’re just excited to be a part of that. We would love to see more students coming down and taking advantage of that,” she adds.
“We want the McDaniel Community to feel like they are welcome here. If they want to join a book club, they’re welcome to do that! Come in anytime, talk to us in the store, tell us what you want to see in the store. We’d love to meet everyone and be your go-to bookstore,” she said.
Overall, Rudolph Girls is excited to build a stronger literature-loving community in Westminster and beyond.
“When people come into the bookstore, they just want to talk about books. They want to talk about the things that they are passionate about, and that could be anything from history to the latest thriller that they’ve read… I think that being an independent bookstore means being a major part of the community.”
“We’re pretty excited about that.”
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McDaniel Free Press 2019