Author photo

By Sandra Coopersmith
Features Writer 

Romance Rules at The Ripped Bodice


February 14, 2019

(l-r) Sisters Leah Koch Bea Koch owners of The Ripped Bodice.

Dictionary definitions of romance include "a feeling of excitement and mystery associated with love," "a quality or feeling of mystery, excitement, and remoteness from everyday life," and "love, especially when sentimentalized or idealized." How romance can be experienced is a whole other story – a wide variety of stories, in fact, that encompass many subgenres and can be found in the literary buffet and intriguing gift items that greet delighted customers at The Ripped Bodice, a very special bookstore at 3806 Main St. in downtown Culver City (, (424) 603-4776). This repository of not-so-guilty pleasures is open Tuesday through Saturday, 11 to 8, and Sunday, 11 to 7.

In 2016 Leah and Bea Koch, sisters and co-proprietresses, took over a storefront that had been a furniture store and gave it new life, transforming it into what has been described as the only exclusively romance novel bookstore in the United States.

Talk about a labor of love!

The sisters, who are among the youngest independent bookstore owners and also among the most recognizable influencers in the romance community, quickly made a name for themselves during their first year of establishment with the Bookseller of the Year Award from the Romance Writers of America. Additionally, in 2016 they released their first State of Diversity in Romance Publishing Report, underlining their commitment to the fight for more inclusion in romance publishing. They also were named the 2017 RWA Steffie Walker Booksellers of the Year by the Romance Writers of America.

The sisters have created an ongoing Valentine to their readers of romance fiction, and those readers have responded in kind on Yelp.

CUSTOMER: "We love this unique, female-driven bookshop. It's cozy and pleasant, they have lots of new books and an upstairs garret of used and rare books, and they have an activity area for children. Much gratitude for this last part!"

CUSTOMER: "I also love that this store has books dedicated to women of color! It is so rare for me to find this in a bookstore and I will definitely be back!"

So who are Leah and Bea, these two young women who are so passionate about passion, and how did they turn their dream into reality?

For starters, they grew up in Chicago, IL and, as kids, devoured romance paperbacks, with Nora Roberts and Loretta Chase being strong influences. Leah attended USC, graduating cum laude with a degree in visual and performing arts. Bea attended Yale and NYU, where she received a master's degree in Costume History. Her graduate thesis, "Mending the Ripped Bodice," focused on the role of fashion in regency romance novels.

CUSTOMER: "Great name! Friendly vibe. Wide variety of books you wouldn't see elsewhere. Be sure to go upstairs and see some of those old book covers!"

Leah and Bea, two lifelong readers of romance novels, a genre that has been somewhat stigmatized, discovered through their research that there wasn't a bookstore devoted to romance fiction despite the fact that in 2013 romance generated more than $1 billion in sales. So, in a lightbulb moment while Bea was writing her graduate thesis, they decided to open one themselves after Leah graduated from college.

They took a very millennial approach to the challenge of raising the money needed to accomplish this daunting task by going straight to their future customers and raising $90,000 on Kickstarter, enabling them to set up shop in Culver City.

CUSTOMER: "It's a magical place where books hang suspended from the ceiling so they look open in flight; where you might lounge with some erotic fiction in a wholesomely cheeky adult section, snuggled up near a life-size cutout of Edward Cullen."

CUSTOMER: "Great bookstore in downtown Culver City. Good selection of LGBT romance and erotica books. The entire second floor is dedicated to used books. Worth the visit for the experience."

So far as industry trends are concerned, the sisters stated that "there is always a hunger," and shared that their top five customer favorites last year were A Princess in Theory by Alyssa Cole; The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang; The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory; A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas; and An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole.

CUSTOMER: "Every nook and cranny is filled with love and care."

CUSTOMER: "You don't have to be a romance reader to love this store – they sell cards and jewelry and other gift items if the thought of buying an actual bodice-ripper is too much for you – but might I suggest that you try one and see? There's room for a little romance in everyone's life."

The sisters feel that "being the only romance-focused bookstore in the Northern Hemisphere makes us pretty unique! We also put a huge emphasis on being a safe and inclusive space for all kinds of people, especially marginalized communities. We want everyone to feel welcome in our store."

CUSTOMER: "It's a safe and feminist space for lovers of romance from all walks of life!"

CUSTOMER: "What a genius place, bursting full of bookish wonder and goodness. The proprietresses know romance and its subgenres back and forth, and are always ready to help with a recommendation. And how refreshing to be able to shop for romance and encounter no snark! Whether you want sexy or sweet, romantic suspense, time travel or really any subgenre, you'll be able to find it here."

As if immersing oneself in a compelling romance weren't enough, there are exciting events coming up.

March 4th will be the store's third birthday and the first 100 customers of the day will get a free goody bag filled with books and swag. Additionally, there's a packed spring ahead, and readers are referred to the events calendar on the website. The sisters are particularly excited to welcome Australian author Sally Thorne on April 3rd as her book, The Hating Game, is a favorite of many of their customers.

And the excitement continues as the sisters are working with Sony Studios to develop TV projects based on romance novels. They can't announce any of them yet but they hope romance readers will be really excited when they hear what they are working on.

CUSTOMER: "If you are looking to feed a romance novel itch, to get a new or maybe classic romance book, or just take a look at a great bookstore that invites you to get lost, give this a try. Thanks for existing!"

Culver City is already known as The Home of Screenland and The City of Kindness. Perhaps we should add Treasure Trove of Written Romance.


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