I’ve been a bookish person all my life. Some of my favorite moments, alone and with friends and family, have a bookstore in the background. Sitting in the aisles of a B. Dalton, reading the most recent Lurlene McDaniel. Trolling the shelves in Capitol Hill Books, seeing what treasures might pop up. Meeting new friends at an author talk, or discovering new authors at a book club. I love bookstores, but there’s one thing that not every bookstore I love loves back:
I read all kinds of books, but romance is my bookish home. I love finding great new romances online, but there’s nothing quite like wandering the shelves of a bookstore and finding your new favorite. There are romance-friendly bookstores, of course, but there still aren’t very many romance-specific bookstores, where everywhere I turn I see something I might want to read. There are two or three across the U.S., but most folks have to rely on big box stores or the internet to get the Good Stuff.
For many years now, I’ve had this vision of myself in an alternate life: a friendly shopkeep, offering space and knowledge (and products, of course) to romance readers in my community. As an introvert, I know I would hate this life, but every once in a while, I think about that space — and send a wish out into the universe for an angel donor to just drop a boatload of cash (and magically, the knowledge on how to manage a business).
If you listen to When In Romance, you know my regular sendoff: Happy Reading. And that’s what I would want this bookstore to be. A place you could go to get books guaranteed to put a smile on your face (or maybe some happy tears)…and a place to sit and caffeinate while you do it.
Much like The Ripped Bodice in Los Angeles and Love’s Sweet Arrow in Chicago, Happy Reading would be a place where you could go in search of any romance available in print and find it on the shelves…or maybe get a special order, since booksellers aren’t completely all-knowing when it comes to what’s available. There would be great displays based on the celebrated cultural heritage months, with lesser-known, equally brilliant authors sitting front and center for find-ability. We’d celebrate random holidays like baked goods day (featuring bakery romances, of course) and national harmonica day (which must be a thing that exists, right?). There would be sections for all of the expected sub-genres and more for the unexpected, and maybe a section of other “happy reading” material that doesn’t technically fall under the genre romance category. And hey, YA can come too. The ones with happy endings, anyway (and if that’s not particularly a romantic one, we can figure something out. Maybe there’ll be a section called “Non-Romantic HEAs” because those are things that exist…somewhere). We’d host book clubs and author chats and writing workshops, and sell cute, non-gendered gear with quirky sayings on them.
And of course, there’s the cafe.
Some people might think that a place that sells food and drink where books are housed can be a disaster, especially if someone decides to just sit and read books they haven’t purchased. Because accidents happen, right? What if our favorite customer who has their own reserved ceramic mug loses their grip and spills a drink all over the copy of that new Christina C. Jones book that they’d sat down with to read a bit? I mean, shrug emoji. I don’t know. We haven’t run out of paper yet, so just order another copy of the book for them? Right?
Eating the cost of a romance fan’s slippery handhold wouldn’t deter me from the dream of a place where romance lovers can sit and commune — with each other, and with the genre.
Ideally, Happy Reading would be two stories and the cafe would be one one floor and the majority of the books on the other (with a few browsable displays in the cafe area, of course), but I live in Tucson and multi-story locations aren’t the easiest to come by. But whether one level or two, there would be plenty of space for romance readers of all types — and who knows, maybe even a book or two would get written there; there would be plenty of inspiration. Coffee shops are great for that. A lot of what I’ve written (before the pandemic, at least) has happened in coffee shops. We’d get plaques made for the furniture: “That Special Thing was written in this armchair!”
And of course, with running a cafe comes the only reason to run a cafe: you get to name the food and drinks.
Do you know what I love? Puns and wordplay.
You know what’s a great palate for puns and wordplay? Food. Drink. Merriment.
Coffee? Sure, we have a Dark and Handsome Roast in two sizes: One Night Standard and Grand Gesture. Do you want that Duke-caffeinated?
Can I offer you an Oh My-chiatto? A Hot Extended Proximi-tea? How about a Brie My Lover cheese board?
(I didn’t say they were good puns.)
(I’m working on it, okay?)
When it comes down to it, if I ever did manage to start a book-related business, it would more likely be something that involved seeing fewer people on the daily, like a book packaging company — I need somebody to properly execute all the plot bunnies I have on my hard drive. But if Happy Reading existed in my city? I’d be there every day. (And seriously, if you want to open this place, you have my permission to run with it. You don’t even have to bring me on as a partner, just pay me in romance novels and Sweet Chaivalry Lattes.)