‘Enthusiastically unhinged’: Readers flip over Minnesota’s first romance-only bookstore

Two people stand in a book store
Tropes & Trifles co-owners Caitlin O’Neil (left) and Lauren Richards stand in their new permanent location in south Minneapolis on April 3.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

Caitlin O’Neil and Lauren Richards hate romance books featuring the overused theme of secret babies. But when you walk into their bookstore Tropes & Trifles, chances are you will find it — along with dozens of other subgenres of romance among the approximately 5,000 books.

Tropes & Trifles is not the first store dedicated to romance novels in the country, but it is the first in Minnesota. Following in the footsteps of The Ripped Bodice in New York and Los Angeles, The Last Chapter in Chicago and Under the Cover in Missouri, the bookstore will only offer romance novels at its location in south Minneapolis. 

Romance is a billion-dollar-a-year-industry and a corner of TikTok known as BookTok has extended its reach. 

Two books sit on display, a wall of colorful books behind them
Books stand on display at the romance bookstore Tropes & Trifles in Minneapolis.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

#romancebooks on TikTok has 2.2 million posts and 12.9 billion views. Authors like Emily Henry, Helen Hoang, Mia Sosa, Ali Hazelwood and Minnesota’s own Abby Jimenez pop up as popular recommendations. 

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Comment after comment include various forms of the following: “This book wrecked me,” “I wish I could sell my soul to read this again for the first time” or “I cried my eyes out reading this.” 

Those feelings are what O’Neil and Richards hope to reproduce in their store. For the winter holidays, they tested out a storefront pop-up to see if Minnesotans were even interested in a romance-dedicated store.

The two had met in a romance book club when they noticed they read completely different subgenres. They joked about opening a bookstore a few times, and then it was a plan.

The glass facade of a bookstore
The grand opening for Tropes & Trifles is planned for Saturday, April 13 in Minneapolis from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

The Twin Cities already has over a dozen bookstores, but romance novels are often secluded to a few shelves. The pop-up confirmed what O’Neil and Richards suspected — Minnesotans were hungry for more.

They described the response as “enthusiastically unhinged.” 

“It was partially a test to see if the location would work,” Richards said. “People were very, very excited and we had a lot of foot traffic. We realized that in addition to having to close and do renovations, we basically needed to quadruple the number of books we had.” 

O’Neil said many of the reactions were a sigh of relief. “It was verbatim: ‘Oh my gosh, finally, a romance bookstore.’”

This reaction does not surprise Jayashree Kamblé, a professor at LaGuardia Community College in New York. Kamblé got her Ph.D. in English literature at the University of Minnesota and now teaches several courses about the romance genre. 

Kamblé has spent her time pushing back against the idea that romance is just now getting big.

According to her, it’s always been huge. People are hearing about it more on social media, but loyal romance book clubs and romance novels flying off library shelves? This is old news. 

Books sit on shelves in a store
The grand opening will feature author Denise Williams of “Technically Yours” and Laura Moher of “Curves For Days.”
Ben Hovland | MPR News

“When the people who love it can say many wonderful, complex things about it — I think there are far more interesting things about romance, about the kinds of people who read it, and about the kinds of joy it brings people,” she said. 

In Chicago, The Last Chapter has been open since September and owner Amanda Anderson says the crowds just keep coming. 

Many guests will tell her that they traveled from neighboring states like Minnesota or Wisconsin and even Canada to visit the romance bookstore. 

“It makes me feel so grateful that we have such a strong community that can allow places like this to succeed and thrive,” Anderson said. “Being able to create a space in a place where people get it, they get the vision and mission without me even having to tell them, is the biggest blessing.”

A cute book display with coffee mugs
After Minneapolis, the next closest romance bookstores are in Chicago and Missouri.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

Richards and O’Neil agree. The genre is often underestimated and dismissed, even with its growth, but they know the truth — romance has always been having a moment and it probably always will be. 

A love story that mirrors their own

What matters most to O’Neil and Richards is that a guest can walk into Tropes & Trifles and find a love story that mirrors their own life. 

“A lot of people don’t understand the genre if they don’t read it,” Richards said. “We like to say, if you’re a mystery reader, no one gets mad when you discover the killer at the end of the book but in our stories, people find love.” 

People want to read love stories about people like them and representation has been key while developing the store from sexuality and gender, to race and ability. 

Branded mugs on a shelf
Mugs line a display shelf at Tropes & Trifles in Minneapolis.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

Every book that has LGBTQ+ identities in it is adorned with a small (removable) rainbow heart sticker on the spine. And there isn’t just an LGBTQ+ section, it is mixed in with the rest of the genres. 

The duo are excited to welcome old and new romance readers to the store. Along with books, there are mugs, tote bags, stickers, candles, bookmarks and Kindle covers. (Yes, all romance book themed).

For the co-owners, the genre is for everyone, you just need to find the type of story that draws you in. O’Neil says it is a common misconception that only women buy romance, but that has not been the case.

“We have customers at every point of the gender spectrum who come here looking for books where either they can see themselves or they can see someone who they love.”

O’Neil and Richards say they are confident the store will have a happy ending, or rather beginning. 

Tote bags are displayed at the checkout in a store
Tote bags hang at the checkout counter at Tropes & Trifles in Minneapolis.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

The grand opening is Saturday, April 13 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. The event will feature author Denise Williams of “Technically Yours” and Laura Moher of “Curves For Days.” Masks will be required from 3-5 pm.

Tropes & Trifles’ hours will be Tues-Sat 11 a.m.-6 p.m., Sundays 11 a.m.-4 p.m., closed Mondays.

This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment’s Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.