Across the country there are exploration-worthy bookstores devoted entirely to genres like science fiction, mystery, and comics. And we love those stores! But where are the bookstores devoted to romance? There is not one store that exclusively sells romance books – even while romance is the best-selling genre in North America. Enter sisters Bea and Leah Koch, who are working to change this fact, acting as the knights in shining armor for romance readers everywhere.
To promote the genre they’ve always loved, the Koch sisters plan to open a Los Angeles-based bookstore filled to the brim with love stories. (If you don’t live in L.A., don’t fret! They will also have an online store!) “The Ripped Bodice is a store for the community of intelligent and outspoken people that write, read, and love romance novels,” explains Leah on their Kickstarter.
Leah and Bea feel an intense connection to this genre, but weren’t inspired to open their own store until they were met with an unexpected amount of judgement about their reading preferences. “When we ask for the romance section, we can be met with anything from confusion, to derision, to outright hostility,” states Bea. Since no reader should be judged for their bibliophilic tendencies, these sisters hope that their store can serve as a beacon of positivity for both new and experienced romance readers.
“Despite its financial dominance [this genre accrued $1.08 billion in 2013], romance still has a less-than-ideal reputation as trashy smut,” Leah says. “However, we think that there is tremendous enjoyment and, perhaps even more importantly, actual educational value to be found in the genre.” Bea adds, “While modern romance novels are known for their sex scenes, they also have depictions of healthy relationships, consent, and respect.”
Speaking of smut, the sisters are working to reclaim this word with their store tagline: Purveyors of Fine Smut. “We chose our name with great care. There are differing opinions in the community about the word ‘smut’ but we are fully in the ’embrace it’ camp. The fact is, the stigma surrounding romance is misogynistic at its core. And the word ‘smut’ is a gendered word, referring to women’s erotica. We just refuse to be embarrassed by it. Or pretend like it doesn’t exist,” revealed the Kochs. “We are a sex-positive store. We don’t want an ounce of embarrassment or shame to affect our customers, and we wanted our name to reflect that. This is about taking back our genre.”
As for the brick-and-mortar store itself, it will be stocked with an array of romantic fiction that’s organized by sub-genre. “Paranormals will be divided by creature, how fun will it be to be able to browse in the Witches Only section?!” the sisters exclaimed. There will also be a Romance-of-the-month club called the Minerva Library, which is named after the Minerva Press: an 18th century publishing house specializing in Gothic and sentimental fiction.
Most importantly, there will be an emphasis on diversity. “We won’t be separating POC romance from non-POC romance, it will be shelved with its appropriate sub-genre,” Leah and Bea stated. Throughout the year, they will also host events that focus on diverse authors and characters.
If all of this sounds like something you’d be interested in, you can help out by donating to The Ripped Bodice Kickstarter. Rewards include tote bags, a Minerva Library membership, and even the chance to name a bookshelf or bathroom in the store. You have 23 days to think about donating, so that the Koch sisters can reach their $90,000 goal! (They’re more than halfway there!)
“We are so grateful to each and every person who supports us. We’ve been hearing from people who have read romance their whole lives and are so excited about the prospect of a store just for them,” said The Ripped Bodice creators. “If you’ve never read a romance novel, let us introduce you!”
[Image via Kickstarter]