When you first wander into The Ripped Bodice bookstore in Los Angeles, it might take you a few minutes to realize that it’s a romance-only bookstore (that is, if the store name and sign hadn’t already given it away). Only when you get closer to the bookshelves will you find titles like “The Thing About Love,” “Wrong to Need You,” “Taking the Heat,” and “Blackmailing the Bad Girl.”
The cozy independent shop, cleverly decorated with vintage furniture and books literally flying off the shelves, is filled with thousands of romantic books in dozens of subgenres, plus thousands of used books. It’s the only exclusively romance bookstore in the northern hemisphere, according to sisters and co-owners Leah and Bea Koch.
“I wrote a graduate thesis in romance theory and fashion history,” Bea said. “It was called ‘Mending the Ripped Bodice’. And in doing research, I realized there was no other romance-only bookstore.”
The Koch sisters saw the need for a safe, welcoming space for women’s literature and for the romance community. After raising more than $91,000 on Kickstarter, they opened the brick and mortar in March 2016.
And when they said a “welcoming space,” the sisters weren’t just talking about books. The Ripped Bodice is unmistakably a vital resource for the community, as it often hosts book clubs, writing workshops, comedy nights and free sex ed classes for teens. They proudly support and sell stationary and products from independent, female-owned businesses around the country, and the proceeds go to support the ACLU and Planned Parenthood. They also offered free signs around the time for Women’s March.
“Romance as a genre is almost exclusively written, produced, created, sold by women and for women,” Leah said, adding that it may be the only genre that prioritizes women’s sexual pleasure and development seriously.
So yes, romance may be best known for its erotic writing. But that doesn’t mean the quality of it falls behind other genres.
“Romance has always kind of been, we call it the redheaded stepchild of publishing,” Bea said. “We need to do a better job of de-stigmatizing the reading of romance.”
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