Annie Rubin was conflicted. It was 2018, and she was enrolling in Chicago Theological Seminary with the intention of becoming a hospice chaplain—but her husband, John Rubin, needed her to join his bookstore-technology company.

Spirituality was her family inheritance. “My father was a Jesuit priest for seventeen years, and my mother was a nun for ten,” says Rubin. “And they met and fell in love.” After “a lot of trying to make things work,” they left their orders and married.

“They had nothing,” Rubin says. “My dad ended up selling insurance” in Minneapolis before moving into academic administration at what’s now the University of Minnesota-Mankato. Rubin is the second of three children.

Her parents’ philosophy, Rubin says, was that “religion leads to God, and there wasn’t one [path] that was better than another.” She chose to go to a Catholic high school, then, in college at the University of Wisconsin, explored Catholicism, Quakerism, Buddhism, and Hinduism while earning a degree in history and Asian studies.

Right out of college, she got a job at Caribou Coffee, which at the time had a single store in a Minneapolis suburb. “I never could have predicted that my random set of skills, which I felt qualified me for”—she pauses—“nothing, frankly!”—she laughs—“would actually fit so perfectly into my role as what the owner called ‘the culture guru.’

“I went from being the first person promoted out of the store when we had ten employees to the national training director” when it had 150. (Under different owners, it now has almost 500.)

So when her husband asked for help on “the people side of things,” she knew she could do it. But through her course work at the Chicago Theological Seminary (CTS), she was also searching for her purpose in life.

That fall, she had been powerfully influenced by a three-day antiracism workshop taught by Rabbi Rachel Mikva, Rubin’s advisor. It was, she emails, “an immersion into the depth and breadth of systemic racism in America, and it blew open my understanding of my role in it as a white person in this country. … I felt both a moral obligation to address systemic racism in myself, our country and our industries, and a desire to make my life and our company and industries better through diversity.” 

While continuing to study at CTS—in person and remotely—she stepped in as president of the company, which they’re currently rebranding simply as Edelweiss. 

She met John at the Four Corners in the Southwest in 1995. “I went to visit my brother one weekend, and he went to visit his sister”—and her brother, John Lofy, and John Rubin’s sister, Laura, were a couple. At the time, they were both working on the Navajo Reservation; now John Lofy oversees marketing and communications at the U-M while Laura heads the environmental group Healing Our Waters.

Annie and John “were engaged within six months, married within two years,” she says. They followed their respective siblings to Ann Arbor in 1999. 

John was working as a management consultant in the auto industry at the time. It wasn’t very fulfilling work, but on the side, he’d been helping his mom make her independent bookshop in suburban Chicago more efficient and profitable.

This was in the 1990s, when “Borders and Barnes & Noble were the big, bad wolf,” Annie recalls. “Independent bookstores were really struggling.” In 2001, John started Above the Treeline to help them.

“The tagline was, ‘You’re independent but no longer alone,’” Annie recalls, “because it was software that enabled you to connect to other booksellers … it got you ‘above the treeline’ so you could see what was happening in your store more clearly.” 

The company started out in the basement of their home on Henry St., then grew into a leased space above Grizzly Peak downtown. In 2008, John added an online catalog called Edelweiss—it’s “a very hardy and resistant flower that grows above the treeline,” Annie explains. The company now has forty-one employees who since the pandemic are working remotely.

When their kids, David and Lila, were little, Annie earned two online master’s degrees, in organizational management and human development. She says she runs the people part of the business, “the culture. John does more of the strategic, tech, book part of the business, the financial part of the business. We complement each other really well.” 

They’re in the process of applying for B Corporation status, which certifies for-profit companies on their social and environmental performance. “It also means that our work for change must be integrated into everything we do—race, climate, LGBTQ+ rights—all of it must be addressed not separately from work, but through our work and in our work,” she says. “If we don’t question and address them in the contexts in which we live and work, we miss the point.” 

Edelweiss offers many benefits, including paid time to volunteer, “sad & sick” days, bereavement pay, and parental leave. A committee meets monthly to discuss “ways to actualize our legacy mission,” Annie says, including “making diverse titles more accessible and available, coming up with ways to help BIPOC booksellers succeed, and addressing bias in our own organization.” An internship program works with the U-M’s Wolverine Pathways to bring in students of color every summer.

The couple learned during the pandemic that they could run their business from anywhere. And they were very aware of their mortality: John’s father, who’d seemed very healthy, died of a sudden heart attack at sixty-two. (Their son is named for him.) 

So at the end of last year they moved to Glenn, Michigan, between South Haven and Saugatuck. They come back regularly for work and family, but Annie says that John, who practices both Judaism and Buddhism, now “spends a lot of time on the dune looking at the water, being in nature.” 

Their son David is pursuing a master’s in comparative literature at the University of Chicago. Daughter Lila is doing an environmental internship in Ann Arbor and living with her aunt and uncle.

Annie’s parents, Chuck and Mary Lofy, moved to Ann Arbor more than ten years ago to be closer to their children and four grandchildren. “He’s ninety-one, and she’s eighty-four,” Annie says. “And they are, to this day, just as crazy about each other” as when they married.

Does she regret her decision not to become a chaplain? “My learning in seminary showed me the divine isn’t just out there in the holy places waiting to be accessed,” she emails. “It is within us, and our challenge is to bring it into the world to make it better.”