Anne Dorsey began to think seriously about opening a bookstore after her daughters received the book "The Twelve Dancing Princesses" as a gift.

"It was the beauty of the illustrations," Mrs. Dorsey said. "I just really started getting interested in children's books, and the idea just evolved from there."

Now Mrs. Dorsey is selling "The Twelve Dancing Princesses" in her general bookstore, "Whistlestop Books," which opens today on Mount Airy's Main Street.

Mrs. Dorsey and her husband, Steve, bought the old Frederick Underwriters insurance building in September. Over the past six months, Mr. Dorsey has been renovating the 88-year-old building at 8 S. Main St.

The job has been challenging, to say the least. "We had to completely gut the place to bring it up to current codes," Mrs. Dorsey said.

It took two weeks to uncover the original hardwood floor under orange carpeting and two layers of linoleum. "We didn't know what was under the floor, but we started tearing it up," she said.

The polished wood floors complement the white bookshelves, the reproduction tin ceiling and the grayish pink walls.

"There have been a lot of headaches," Mrs. Dorsey said of opening the bookstore. "It's real exciting to be involved in a new venture and a new career."

Before deciding to become a bookseller, Mrs. Dorsey was an account manager with a credit union in Gaithersburg. Between the job and the commute, there was little time left for her husband and two daughters, ages 5 and 7.

"I wanted to do something closer to home and more in tune with family life," she said. "Even though I'll be working full time, I'll still have more flexibility."

Mrs. Dorsey said her daughters are thrilled about the bookstore.

"The younger one has always been fascinated with books, ever since she could sit up," she said.

Although she's had retail and management experience, Mrs. Dorsey said she's never worked in a bookstore. To familiarize herself with the business, she attended a course in Boston last summer offered by the American Booksellers' Association. The course is designed to teach people how to own and manage a bookstore.

Mrs. Dorsey said she chose to locate her shop on Main Street because of her fondness for old buildings and its "quaint, friendly" atmosphere. Based on comments from passers-by while she and her husband readied the store for its opening, Mrs. Dorsey said Mount Airy residents seem to be excited about having a bookstore in town.

"People have been stopping in for months, giving us a lot of encouraging words," Mrs. Dorsey said. "We're excited about the reception we've been getting."

The name of the store, "Whistlestop Books," is a reminder of Mount Airy's strong historical connection with Baltimore and Ohio railroad.

"The town grew up around the railroad, and I wanted the name to have some significance to the town," Mrs. Dorsey said.

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