As one of the few romance-only bookstores in the world, The Ripped Bodice has become a cornerstone of the romance community. Founded by sisters Bea and Leah Koch in 2016, following a successful Kickstarter that raised $91,000, the L.A. bookstore has gained wide recognition for its annual Diversity Report, which tallies the number of romance novels by indigenous writers and authors of color each year.
"We are an in-person business," Leah Koch says in an episode of Bustle's new YouTube series, Small Business Salutes. "We made the decision to open a brick-and-mortar bookstore because we wanted people to be able to have an actual, physical space, and now we've lost that."
Since March 16, The Ripped Bodice has become a completely virtual shop — having closed its doors to IRL shoppers due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Now, the store is running as a "a one-woman operation," with Leah processing all of their online orders alone. Though it's just Leah manning the shop, the Koch sisters have remained committed to paying all of their staffers.
In pivoting to an online model, The Ripped Bodice didn't want to lose the personal touches that make independent bookstores so fantastic. They're now offering "care packages": a new provision from The Ripped Bodice that focuses on readers' advisory and local creatives.
Each care package Leah assembles takes the buyer's likes and dislikes into account, offering them handpicked selections and extra swag, such as bookmarks, candles, hats, and socks. She's already sent out more than 700 of these book bundles, in addition to standard online orders, in the few weeks the store has been closed to foot-traffic. At the time of this writing, there is a 500-person waiting list for care packages.
While the demand has been overwhelming — particularly for Leah, their lone person on the ground — the Koch sisters are immensely grateful. "The thing that works the best for me [is] focusing on why I'm doing this," Leah says, adding that, "in this instance, it's to be able to pay my employees."
We are shining a spotlight on some of the millions of small businesses now challenged by COVID-19. This is part of an ongoing commitment our parent company, Bustle Digital Group, is making to support small businesses throughout the entire month of May. Tell us about your favorite small business on social media using #SmallBusinessSalutes.