Janis Ahalt Riker
Janis Ahalt Riker (Andre F. Chung, Baltimore Sun)

Janis Ahalt Riker, a retired attorney and business owner who also ran a Howard County antiquarian bookshop, died of cancer April 8 at her home in Portland, Ore. She was 69 and had lived in Columbia for many years.

Born Janis Kay Ahalt in Baltimore and raised on Hillendale Road, she was the daughter of Charles Ahalt, a Baltimore & Ohio Railroad conductor, and Pauline Prebish Ahalt, a homemaker. She was a 1962 graduate of Towson High School and was selected to participate in the St. Timothy's School summer Latin American Seminar. She also was the editor of the high school newspaper. She earned a bachelor's degree from Goucher College.


She met her future husband, Daniel C. Riker, while she was at Goucher and he was at the Johns Hopkins University.

"She had a brilliant mind, keen reasoning ability, warm personality and a diplomatic manner," her husband said. "She also had an adventurous nature, and she periodically pursued challenging ventures. Her goal was to live life to the fullest, but to do so with honor and dignity."

She trained tellers for Maryland National Bank and taught at the Baltimore Institute before going to work for the Commission on Maryland Government, a citizens group sponsored by the Greater Baltimore Committee that made a number of recommendations for reforms in education and state and local government.

Mrs. Riker then became the assistant administrator of the Columbia Medical Plan, an early health maintenance organization operated by Johns Hopkins Hospital. She then became a public relations director for the Hopkins Medical Institutions.

She later returned to the Columbia Medical Plan and assisted in Howard County General Hospital's planning and opening.

Mrs. Riker earned a degree at the University of Baltimore School of Law and was admitted to the Maryland bar in 1979. She first worked in the law practice of Diane Schulte in Ellicott City and later had her own law office in Columbia.

Her husband said she closed her practice several years later to devote herself full time to raising her daughter. She also served on the St. Timothy's School board of directors, where her daughter was a student.

In 1993, Mrs. Riker became the president of a company started with her husband that became Pocket Communications, a wireless communication and cellphone business.

She then fulfilled a lifetime ambition to own and operate a bookstore.

"We had a house full of books," said her husband. "We were both lovers of literature, history and mysteries. Through our communications business, we realized we could sell online."

In 1998, she and her husband formed Basset Books, a company that sold used, rare and antiquarian books online and in stores they operated in Columbia. She later moved the shop to Historic Savage Mill.

"I love knowing that I'm holding something that people held for centuries and read for centuries," she said in a 2006 Baltimore Sun article, as she held a 1725 edition of Ovid's "The Art of Love."

Mrs. Riker was a member of the Washington Antiquarian Booksellers Association.

"We try to provide books people aren't going to see at Borders or Barnes & Noble," she said in a 2003 Sun article. "It's not just a place for wealthy collectors, but it's also a place for kids to come and discover how wonderful books are and how accessible they are."


She and her husband closed that business in 2012 and moved to Portland, Ore., to be closer to her daughter.

At the time of her death, Mrs. Riker was on the Patient Advisory Council of the Internal Medicine Clinic of the Oregon Health & Science University.

Services are private.

Mrs. Riker is survived by her husband of nearly 47 years, a former United Press International bureau manager and regional news editor, who is now a novelist; her daughter, Cary Riker-Shutt of Happy Valley, Ore.; and a grandson.