A bookstore that primarily sells romance and erotic novels, specifically curated to empower women: The premise sounds ripped straight from Portlandia or this recent SNL sketch. But the shop is real, in Los Angeles's Culver City neighborhood, and it manages to pull off its feminist goal with a playful level of self-awareness that prevents it from ever tipping too far into the realm of fodder for internet trolls.
Founded by Chicagoan sister "proprietresses" Bea and Leah Koch, the Ripped Bodice is the only store in America that specializes in love stories, with everything from Jane Austen classics to euphemistic beach trash to hardcore erotica lining its shelves.
The store, which recently celebrated its one year anniversary, was dreamed up by the sisters as they were finishing school, in part, as a way for them "to avoid getting regular jobs." They always knew they wanted to open a store to support women in some way and, as lifelong fans of romance novels, a genre predominantly by and for women, the Kochs had the perfect opportunity to leverage their interest into a unique retail experience. After a successful Kickstarter campaign provided seed funding, the Kochs were in business.
At first glance, the inside of the Ripped Bodice might appear to be any other independent book store. Cute, Etsy-ish aesthetics, small displays selling soaps or tchotchkes—all by women-owned independent businesses, of course—and ornate couches and reading chairs conjure up images of boozy book club meetings. But just a few moments scanning the shelves reveals the inventory's common theme that distinguishes this shop from others, and it's a theme spread across a wide spectrum of lasciviousness. "We organize our book store differently than any other book store in the world, with the one exception being the other romance book store in Australia," says Leah. "Because we only sell one genre, the store is divided by sub-genres. We have four main areas: historical, contemporary, paranormal, and erotica."