Patti Maley used to spend her days with suited lawyers and their clients. But now she passes time with Abby the Gardener, Marissa the Gypsy and Baby Honey.
They're quieter than the lawyers and great to look at, Maley allows. In fact, they're real dolls, jokes the woman who opened her own doll shop last Saturday in downtown Glen Burnie.
"The whole thing kind of started out as a joke," said Lynn Godsey, Maley's sister and a partner in the venture along with her husband, Kenneth.
Both women have been avid doll collectors for years, often exchanging new dolls as Christmas gifts. Last December relatives teased them that they had so many dolls they could open their own shop.
Within the next few weeks, they were looking at retail space for lease, poring over doll magazines and calling manufacturers to order stock. Four months later, they opened What A Doll Shop and Hospital, at Third Avenue and Crain Highway.
Maley said she had grown weary of her work as a legal secretary. Even though she hadn't thought about starting her own business, it was something she thought would be fun to try.
After the three partners developed their plan for the store, Maley told her bosses at Ingerman & Horwitz in Baltimore she would be quitting in mid-April. She sold her mobile home in Chase and moved in with the Godseys, who live in Glen Burnie, to cut down on her expenses.
"We figured I'd really have to cut my expenses until the shop started making money," said Maley, who will run the shop during the week. The Godseys will help out on weekends.
Some may question the wisdom of opening a new specialty store now, before the economic rebound is a certainty. But the sisters aren't worried because they say they understand their target clientele.
"Collectors of anything are crazy," Maley said. "They will add something to their collections saying they need to have it. They'll justify it somehow. A lot of women say they're collecting for their daughters."
One of the reasons they chose Glen Burnie -- besides the fact they were raised in the area and the Godseys live here -- is that the sisters were tired of driving 30 minutes or more to satisfy their own ongoing need to buy dolls. The closest stores specializing in collectible dolls are in Annapolis, White Marsh and Ellicott City, they said.
Marjorie Miller of Eldersburg said the sisters have hit on a great idea. Miller, who bought three dolls Saturday ranging in price from $39 to $200, said doll collecting is "a very big hobby right now," yet there are few outlets for collectors. The closest shop to her home is the one in Ellicott City, she said.
"There's other shops that sell a few dolls but as far as a real doll shop goes, there's just not that many," she said.
Maley said the store will specialize in "collectible" or "limited edition" dolls, which means only a certain number are created, usually 1,000 or 2,500, increasing their value.
Even the Kewpie dolls sold by the shop, some for as little as $10, are collectible, Godsey said, because the manufacturer changes the dolls every year, using different poses or new outfits.
Dolls at the shop vary in price, with the most expensive dolls running well more than $200. But the shop has many elaborate dolls for about $60 to $70 as well.
Eventually, Marley and Godsey plan to add antique dolls to their collection and begin repairing dolls in a doll hospital behind the shop.
The partners already have invested about $10,000 in the business, mostly to buy dolls and renovate the inside of the shop, which they said was badly in need of repairs.
The store now looks like a little girl's dream come true, with white walls, furniture and curtains accented with doll furniture and accessories. More than 100 dolls adorn the white shelves or sit in tiny playpens or atop miniature rocking horses.
The dolls are made out of porcelain or vinyl, some with 100 percent silk costumes. Many are dressed in exquisite Victorian costumes, while others are dressed like, well, babies. The shop even has Kewpie dolls dressed in bunny suits and dolls that are really cats dressed in doll clothes.
The owners need to sell about 15 to 20 dolls a month to break even, Maley said. On Saturday for the opening, the shop sold 10 dolls, far exceeding their expectations.
Hours for What A Doll Shop and Hospital are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday.