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Once upon a time, there were two sisters. The first, Bea Kochopens in a new tab, 33, swore her loyalty to canines of all shapes and sizes. The other, Leah Koch, 31, had long pledged her heart to the feline side of the animal kingdom. Despite their differences these sisters shared a common interest: love. And Gilmore Girls (obviously).
In 2016, the Koch sisters opened The Ripped Bodiceopens in a new tab, a romance-only bookstoreopens in a new tab in Culver City, California. Together with shop dog, Fitz, Leah and Bea made their mark on the romance and literary world — establishing themselves as the county’s first ever romance-only bookstore. The readers of Los Angeles soon caught wind, and the store took off, inspiring the sisters to open another location in the Nora Ephron capital of the world: New York City (specifically Park Slope, Brooklyn’s answer to Ephron’s beloved Upper West Side).
In between opening two stores, the sisters also pursued several other endeavors that have helped solidify their main character status. In 2018, they signed a dealopens in a new tab with Sony Pictures TV to help develop romance projects for the studio. While Bea ventured to the other side of the book industry, publishing Mad and Bad: Real Heroines of the Regencyopens in a new tab in 2020. Through it all, they relied on their love of the work — and their pets — to keep the hustle going.
Recently, Bea and Leah made time to chat with The Wildest about their differences in pet persuasion, their passion for the genre of passion, and what’s next for The Ripped Bodice.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Tell us about the pets of The Ripped Bodice.
Bea: I have to start with a pet who is no longer with us: Fitz William Waffles D.D.S., Esq. was our first store dog. He passed away a few years ago, but he’s [with us] forever, and then there is Fiona Hodges Koch. She is our second one; Fitz sent her to us. She lives in the desert, so she hasn’t ever really been a shop dog. And then Hamilton Hoyt Hodges Koch, named after Minerva Hamilton Hoyt who got Joshua Tree protected, which is where I live. They are the lights of my life.
Leah: I have three cats, and their names are Clementine, Antoinette, and Kevin.
I’m getting a little bit of “cat person” and “dog person” vibes from you both. Am I reading that right?
Bea: Oh, yeah. Leah is the definition of a cat person, and I am the definition of a dog person.
Leah: Yeah, it’s pretty accurate. And I mean, I obviously love her dogs, but I would say it’s pretty reflective of our personality.
Bea: I love Leah’s cats. I don’t really understand the point of them. And then I also don’t understand how life is worth living without dogs.
Leah [laughing]: Your dogs are so needy. Cats just take so much more care of themselves and, like myself, they will present themselves to you when they would like attention, and then you just leave them alone the rest of the time.
Bea: Not to be overly dramatic, but being a dog parent has given me a deeply essential part of myself. I talk about it in therapy all the time because, as an adult, people stop teaching you how to take care of yourself and how to parent yourself because you’re an adult. And in parenting my dogs, I’m reminded that when they eat, I eat, when they go for walks, I go for a walk, when I realize they’re overstimulated, I’m like, Oh, I might be overstimulated, too. I feel like I care about their needs, honestly, more than my own. But then it reminds me that I have needs, too. So, I just think being a dog person is the best.
Leah: I understand why it fulfills people; I just don’t want to go on walks.
Despite this divide, you have come together as sisters to start a romance-specific bookstore. How did you two come up with this idea?
Leah: We are both life-long romance readers, but we came up with the idea almost nine years ago. Bea was visiting me in LA, and we were talking about what we wanted to do with our lives. Bea was finishing her graduate degree; I was finishing my undergraduate degree. She was living in New York at that time, and we were sad to be away from each other, but we were like, “We should go into business together, and we should become shopkeepers because it will be like we’re in Gilmore Girls.” And, it has turned out to not be like that.
We grew up going to bookstores, and our parents really instilled in us a love of bookstores as community spaces. And we were like, well, “What if we had a store that only sold the genre that we like?” And we couldn’t believe that nobody else was doing that already in the United States. And so, with all the confidence and naïveté of young people who have no idea what they’re doing, we decided that we were going to do this.
I have to ask: Do you carry any romance titles specifically for pet parents, along the lines of Must Love Dogs?
Leah: There is a huge overlap of people who are really into pets and people who write romance novels. One of the most popular right now is called Pride and Puppiesopens in a new tab [by Lizzie Shane]. There’s this really good series about people who train service dogs, and the first one is so funny because it’s this like big, beefy dude who needs a diabetic alert dog and the dog they give him is, like, a tiny Pomeranian. It’s called Puppy Love by Lucy Gilmoreopens in a new tab.
Bea: So many romance novelists love their pets so much that pets as an important part of the story is a very popular thing.
The Ripped Bodice appears to highlight authors we don’t normally see front and center in the romance publishing world, specifically queer authors. What inspired this move?
Leah: Yeah, um, it’s inspired by me being gay. And we were also raised Jewish, and I think it’s inspired by wanting to make sure everybody feels included and knows that there are romance novels out there for them. We have a tremendous amount of work to do as an industry in terms of diversity, especially in terms of racial diversity.
But also — and I always try to emphasize this — we are not a nonprofit. We’re a for-profit business, and this helps us make money. There are more customers if you have books that are not just straight, white, and Christian. It’s not an altruistic endeavor.
Bea: Queer titles have always sold well for us from the beginning. We’re always expanding that section, it has never gotten smaller.
Leah: And just to emphasize: It’s not that I want to be a good person. It’s because I like making money.
Bea: We want to be good people, too.
Leah: Yes. But in this case, the queer community has tremendous buying power, and our literal best selling book last year was an F/F romance novel, which means two women. And I don’t mean best selling-book in the queer section. I mean our best-selling book of 2022 was Delilah Green Doesn’t Careopens in a new tabby Ashley Herring Blake, which is a fantastic book.
The strategy must be working for you, considering you just opened up your second store in Brooklyn. How’s that been going?
Leah: OK, so the hilarious thing about our Brooklyn space is that it used to be a pet store. So, the dogs of Park Slope are frantically confused about what is going on because they’re used to going in there and getting treats. And so dogs, like, drag their owners into the store.
Bea: There is one woman who has to lift her dog up by his harness to pass the store.
Leah: Oh my god, he’s my favorite.
Bea: We immediately got treats so we could give all the dogs treats.
With both of you based in LA, how have your pets been handling the bi-coastal lifestyle?
Leah: My cats are in LA, which is sad. I’m living with my dad while I’m here in Brooklyn, and he is deeply allergic to cats, otherwise I would have brought them with me. So, they are staying with a friend. And I’m really enjoying myself; this is great, but the literal one negative is I really miss my cats.
Bea: I have the most amazing dog sitteropens in a new tab in the world who comes and stays at my house with my dogs when I’m gone. And I’m just insane about who I leave my dogs with — really they’re my children. She sends me probably, like, 100 pictures a day. It’s just like a constant stream of what they’re doing and how they’re feeling and without that, I would not be able to leave as much.
So, what’s next for The Ripped Bodice?
Leah: We’re just getting our sea legs in Brooklyn, and we do have some really fun stuff coming up in LA. But at this moment, we’re just on the heels of a very large project. So, no big project on the horizon at the moment — but ask me again in a year or two.
Rebecca Caplan is a writer based in Brooklyn whose work has been featured in The New Yorker, Reductress, and Vulture. She lives in Brooklyn with her perfect, toothless dog Moose.
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