Two sisters with a love for romance literature are busting open the genre by opening the country's first independent bookstore dedicated exclusively to romance.
At The Ripped Bodice in Culver City, co-owner Leah Koch, says, "We really compare ourselves to a wine shop. Romance is so personal, and you really need a bookseller who not only understands your tastes but then understands the genre as a whole."
Despite a stigma that romance novels are reserved for sappy secretaries, Leah Koch explains, "What people who are not familiar with romance might not know is how many different categories of romance there are. It's not just sort of contemporary romance as a whole, there are cowboys and vampires and tons of historical genres."
Her sister, Bea Koch, adds, "Some authors don't want to be associated with romance books, which are defined as having a central love story with a happy ending. But we offer erotica, women's comedy, such as Amy Poehler, Tina Fey... we love Mindy Kaling. A lot of titles can fit in."
What gave you the idea to take on this kind of risk? Do you know that bookstores are so 20th century?
Bea: Indie bookstore sales have been up for four years in a row now. So we're very confident in the bookstore robustness. And we really think a genre bookstore has a really special thing to offer a customer. We can really focus on what romance is beyond the general idea of romance but we can really dig into the sub-genres that are what make romances so unique.
Expand the genre, not just into what we think of the dashing man on the cover of a paperback — the sort of stereotypical romance novels?
Bea: We absolutely have some dashing men on our covers, we won't deny that (laughter)!
But you have, for example, lesbian romance, too right?
Leah: Yes, we have quite a large LGBTQ section and my favorite part of the LGBTQ section is the young adult part of that section, which is focused on gay and lesbian and bisexual protagonists, and transgender, in their teen years, which I think is so important.
And are there very many writers in that sub-genre?
Leah: I think it's one of the fastest growing sub-genres in romance and it's wonderful to see such great writing and great stories coming out of that sub-genre and people who are really hungry for those stories and are maybe feeling like they're finally being represented in all stages of life.
You're really talking about what's called hand-selling in the business, which of course you can't do with an online bookseller, so you can have people who are regulars. You get to know their taste. You are on the lookout for books. All the kind of things you can't do online.
Leah: Absolutely! We really compare ourselves to a wine shop. Romance is so personal and you really need a bookseller who not only understands your tastes but then understands the genre as a whole. Because I think what people who are not familiar with romance might not know is how many different categories of romance there are. It's not just sort of contemporary romance as a whole, there are cowboys and vampires and tons of historical genres.
And cowboy vampires!
The thematically decorated bookstore, complete with Bea's custom-blend rose & lavender potpourri, has been open for less than two months but is already a road-trip destination for the romantically inclined. Leah says brick-and-mortar bookstores thrive in the era of Amazon by offering much more than author signings - including celebrating Mother's Day and community book clubs.
Listen to the full interview by clicking play above.