First in a series of articles spotlighting the five finalists for the Carroll County Biz Challenge.
A shared dream between two sisters is a reality as Westminster has a new independent bookstore on Main Street.
Rudolph Girls Bookstore is run by Nikki Rhodes, 39, and Ali King, 42, two Carroll County Public School teachers who decided to channel their passion for reading into a business. After years of family dinner conversations fantasizing about opening a bookstore, the sisters decided to finally take the leap in January.
They celebrated the store’s opening over the weekend.
“We really do believe that bookstores can be the hub of a community, and that it helps people who may be introverted and not really know how to start friendships or start conversations with people,” Rhodes said. “Everybody loves to talk about the books that they love.”
Coming from teaching backgrounds, the new entrepreneurs decided to seek out mentors in the small business community in Westminster for advice on how to open a shop.
“It’s been a huge learning curve,” King said, “but we’ve been so incredibly lucky with people answering every single question that we have.”
Rudolph Girls is one of the five finalists for the Carroll County Biz Challenge, a competition for local entrepreneurs to pitch business ideas, network, get publicity and compete for a $10,000 cash prize among other additional prizes and services. In its 10th year, the challenge will take place Aug. 26 at the Carroll Arts Center in Westminster.
This year’s finalists also include Brothers Ridge Cider, Hoffa Beans & Biscuits, Local Bucket and Moving Targets. Each contestant will have to pitch their ideas to a panel of judges and a live audience. The event is sponsored by the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce, and tickets can be purchased at its website.
If the sisters win, they plan on using the cash prize for holiday decorating at their store and restocking inventory.
To start engaging with future customers, Rhodes and King read at story times at the Westminster Farmers Market on Saturdays and maintain an active social media presence. They’ve also raised funds by selling T-shirts.
During the beginning stages of starting Rudolph Girls, the sisters reached out to bookstores across the country for insight on running a successful business. While they held virtual meetings online with multiple book sellers, they bonded particularly well with Annie Philbrick, who owns two bookstores in Connecticut and Rhode Island.
Philbrick, 61, who lives in Stonington, Conn., is a veteran bookseller who enjoys mentoring younger people looking to enter the profession.
“Independent bookstores are vital to the shopping local movement and just bring a wonderful world of discovery and browsing to people,” Philbrick said. “Sharing a book is like sharing a part of yourself that you like, and it’s just really special.”
Rhodes and King went on a road trip in June to visit Philbrick’s stores and other New England bookstores to find inspiration for decorating. They aim to create a cozy and inviting space with initiatives for people to connect with fellow community members through reading. One plan is to reach out to local organizations for book recommendations to show shop patrons.
“As much as we love to read, we are only two humans, and we can only recommend so many books that we personally have read,” Rhodes said. “We think that it would be a neat way for people get to know their school leaders or their police officers and firefighters.”