First Romance-Only Bookstore Opens in L.A.

Sisters Leah and Bea Koch raised $91,000 on Kickstarter to fund a store for fans of everything from 'Fifty Shades' to Harlequin to LGBTQ stories.
 Courtesy of Subject

The Ripped Bodice, which opens March 4 in Culver City, is not your mother’s bookstore. It is not your father’s or your brother’s bookstore either or like anyone’s bookstore for that matter: it's a romance-only bookstore. 

A romance-only bookstore isn’t a small niche. Just think Fifty Shades of Grey, which has sold over 125 million copies since its debut in 2012 and whose movie adaptation grossed $571 million in 2015. Romance is one of the highest-grossing genres in North America with $1.08 billion in revenue in 2013, according to the Romance Writers of America. 

To the uninitiated, the breadth of romance novels is surprising. "The store isn’t in alphabetical order,” Leah Koch tells The Hollywood Reporter. “It’s actually split up into sub-genres. We’ve got a wide variety of romance books. We’ve got a YA section and an NA [new adult] section — books for adults 18 to 25. And we’ve got a separate section for paranormal and erotica.” Other sub-genres include suspense, cowboy, Christmas, inspirational, historical and LGBTQ.

Bea Koch, 23, and her sister Leah, 26, the founders, were voracious readers of romance and historical fiction when they came up with the idea. The Midwestern-raised sisters brought their dream to fruition — with tremendous help from Kickstarter — while they were studying at NYU and USC, respectively.

“I was writing my thesis, Mending the Ripped Bodice, about the portrayal of romance in fiction,” Bea Koch explains. “We realized there was no dedicated bookstore to the genre. Which is crazy! It seemed like it should lend itself to a bookstore experience because romance is such a personal genre for so many people.” The pair set up a Kickstarter campaign and within a month of its October 2015 launch they had raised the $90,000 in startup costs they needed.

The sisters emphasize the many people part. “Men make up 20 percent of the readership of romance novels.” Bea Koch says. “But I think there is a taboo topic around it. There is an issue to talk openly about sex and books. There is some embarrassment that might have contributed to it, but that’s the exact opposite of we’d like to present. There should be no embarrassment when walking into The Ripped Bodice — we are an open, welcoming environment where you can feel comfortable asking anything."

When asked about what keeps them motivated to run a brick-and-mortar bookstore in the digital age, the pair explain it’s the love of creative space and they have no worries about the future of their business. “We’ve been tasting so much pink champagne,” Leah Koch adds. “We are so excited for the authors signing and the live music.” The opening weekend features appearances from authors Francesca Lia Block (Dangerous Angels), Tessa Dare (Castles Ever After) and Rebekah Weatherspoon (Vampire Sorority Sisters), jazz music and English tea treats.

“There is pressure,” Bea Koch concedes. “But it’s kind of this wonderful responsibility to have this special thing. There’s something about being in a space, drinking wine and chatting about your books, that is so comforting and that’s what we want to provide.”

The Ripped Bodice, 3806 Main St, Culver City, Calif. Grand opening party weekend on March 4 and author signing on March 5.

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