Feb 14, 2024 - Business

Romance bookstores are having a moment

Illustration of a paper silhouette of cupid reading a book, surrounded by hearts.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Niche bookstores courting people who love to read about love are popping up across the country.

Why it matters: The romance genre is red hot and starry-eyed fans are demanding more access to stories that defy age-old tropes and stereotypes.

What's happening: Stores and pop-ups dedicated to selling romance novels have debuted in cities including Boston, Chicago and Minneapolis in recent months.

Driving the trend: Data from consumer research firm Circana show print sales of romance novels as of last summer were up 52% year over year.

  • Industry experts say the growth is fueled in part by TV adaptations and #BookTok bringing new and younger readers into the fold.

What they're saying: "We need a place where readers and writers can find books with happy endings," said Lauren Richards, a lifelong romance reader who quit her job as a political consultant to launch Tropes & Trifles in Minneapolis last year.

  • Amanda Anderson was active in the online romance lit scene before opening The Last Chapter Book Shop in Chicago. During the pandemic, she noticed more people seeking out and finding comfort in romance books.
  • "People were just looking for escapism," she said.

Between the lines: The genre has evolved beyond so-called bodice-rippers featuring a shirtless Fabio on the cover. (Even though plenty of fans still love those classics).

  • Modern romances feature main characters with a wide range of races, sexual orientations, gender identities, and storylines.

Zoom in: At Minneapolis' Tropes & Trifles, which is temporarily closed for renovations, shelves carry everything from those classic period piece paperbacks to a series about queer werewolves passionate about both canoodling and destroying capitalism.

  • "If they want to read a mafia romance or a book about aliens dating, that's great!" said Katherine Morgan, a bookseller at Powell's Books who recently announced plans to open Grand Gesture Books in Portland, Oregon.
  • "Wherever they find that joy, I'm not going to have anyone try to stifle it."

Of note: Even where there aren't dedicated romance shops, independent booksellers are filling the gap with special sections and events.

Go deeper: Top romance novel picks from San Diego's Meet Cute bookshop owner, Becca Title.

Axios Local reporters Carrie Shepherd, Kate Murphy, Steph Solis, Anna Spiegel and Meira Gebel contributed to this report.

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