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Read all about it: Carroll County bookstores survive and thrive through pandemic and e-book craze

When Erin Matthews entered the bookstore business in 2009 she compared others’ reactions to the story of “Chicken Little.”

“The sky is falling! The sky is falling! E-books will kill us all!” she said with a laugh. Thirteen years after purchasing Books with a Past, then located in Glenwood, Matthews is still the proud of owner of the bookstore, which she renamed The Final Word.

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In fact, she now owns two locations, one in Savage and one in Mount Airy.

“People want a physical book,” she said. “There’s something to be said about being in a bookstore and perusing through the books.”

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A love of books is why sisters Nikki Rhodes and Ali King opened the Rudolph Girls Books in Westminster in August. Both former teachers, the two decided last winter that they wanted to be their own bosses, according to Rhodes.

“A bookstore was a natural fit for us,” Rhodes said. “We both love books and we saw a need in Westminster for bookstores.”

A bookstore, according to Jill Gregory, manager for 14 years of A Likely Story Bookstore in Sykesville, is a place where people can mingle and just “go on and on and on about books.

“Customer service is a big part of it and being part of the community,” Gregory said. “All of our employees here love to talk about books.”

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Jill Gregory, manager of A Likely Story Bookstore in Sykesville, which will virtually host one of their popular author talks with Laura Lippman next Wednesday, Jan. 12.
Jill Gregory, manager of A Likely Story Bookstore in Sykesville, which will virtually host one of their popular author talks with Laura Lippman next Wednesday, Jan. 12. (Dylan Slagle / Carroll County Times)

Author talks have been a steady attraction at the store, with local suspense author Laura Lippman scheduled to make her 13th appearance there on Jan. 12. Though the event will now be held online only, the store is still planning to host a trivia contest and Lippman will provide signed copies of her latest book “Seasonal Work.”

“To actually go see an author gets you more excited,” said Gregory, noting that more than 1,000 people attended a talk by Nicholas Sparks, author of “The Notebook” and “The Wish,” among other titles, at an event last fall held at Westminster High School.

The store also sponsors two book clubs twice a month, and has hosted Scout troops and birthday parties.

Rudolph Girls Books also offers book clubs and partners with other locations to host them, such as American Ice Co. Café in Westminster.

“They have a nice space upstairs that we use,” Rhodes said. “People can get coffee or a muffin.”

The sisters offer book events around the county, including an author event at Bud’s Silver Run Restaurant, a talk at a brewery in Taneytown and a workshop on how to create a charcuterie board.

“We love Carroll County,” Rhodes said. “We want people to support local businesses, not just us.”

At The Last Word, Matthews was fortunate to form a partnership with the distillery located in the basement of her store, Frey’s Brewing Company, to host such events as “Beers and Books” in November and “Fall Books and Booze Happy Hour.”

“We read ‘Catcher in the Rye’ and they created a rye cocktail,” Matthews said. “They have been really fun. It’s an opportunity for book lovers to talk with other book lovers.”

Customers also have the option of purchasing the book with a cocktail-to-go kit, Matthews said.

“With COVID numbers spiking again, we’re focusing on making the store as inviting and safe as possible,” Matthews said.

All three bookstores offer online sales and curbside pickup.

“We have a lot of options for people,” Rhodes said. “So people could order books online, it was really important to us when coming up with a business plan to learn which software to use.”

This past holiday season was a boon for all three bookstores, they said.

“It was nice to see all the support of people shopping local businesses,” Gregory said. “We offer a lot of services other places don’t. We give recommendations. We talk to you. We have a bit of everything, but if we don’t, we’ll see about ordering for you.”

The Last Word’s “amazing customers” made 2021 the “best year ever,” according to Matthews.

“People recognize that to keep a community, you support it and shop local,” Matthews said. “We’re here and there is instant gratification when you get that book we have in stock. People get excited.”

The bookstore’s first holiday season was “a lot of hard work,” Rhodes said, but she is excited for the future.

“We’re still coming up with ideas and still getting the word out there that we exist,” Rhodes said. “It’s been really, really fun and satisfying. I’m proud of us.”

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