Jenny Pool started reading romance novels when she was just a kid, stealing them from the bag on her grandmother’s locked porch. “I’ve always been a love story lover,” she says, “even when she was reading ‘Anne of Green Gables.’ Who doesn’t love the love story of Anne and Gil? She liked that romance novels generally guaranteed a happy ending, along with some fascinating trials and tribulations along the way.
While there are a handful of bookstores in the US that specialize in romance (Pool especially likes Ripped Bodice in Culver City, California), for years Pool had longed to start one in Canada. She took COVID to push her into entrepreneurship. “After two years of working from my dining room table during the pandemic, I was desperately searching for that kind of human connection that we had all been missing,” she says. “She made me realize how much I love talking to people and how much I would love to talk to people about something I love so much: books.”
Whitby resident released the country’s first romance bookstore, Happily Ever After, as an online store in May and has been hosting in-person popups ever since. “Even though we don’t have a physical store, the connections I’ve made in our pop-ups and through social media have been amazing,” she says. Soon the store will make an appearance at the Society Clubhouse at Dufferin Grove on August 20 to celebrate Bookstore Romance Day with the Beer Drinking Ladies Society. On September 25, it’s coming to the Word on the Street fall pop-up at Evergreen Brick Works.
Happily Ever After includes a wide range of romance genres, from historical and contemporary to science fiction, fantasy and the paranormal. And yes, says Pool, “we do have ‘Ice Planet Barbarians,’ the six-foot-tall blue alien books that TikTok loves.” Wait, “Ice Planet Barbarians”?
“It’s a 10-book alien romance series written by Ruby Dixon, in which a group of women are abducted from Earth by aliens looking to sell them on the intergalactic market,” says Pool. “However, the ship crashes on an icy planet and the women are found by the locals, with whom, of course, they fall in love.”
The books that Pool sells vary in spiciness, so there’s a read for everyone. Pool also prides itself on having more independent authors, which can be hard to find in larger bookstores; some Ontario favorites include Jackie Lau, Hudson Lin, Kelly Siskind, Rosanna Leo and Zoe York.
Having a romance-only bookstore, he says, has helped fans feel a little better about his passion for these stories. Readers tell Pool how grateful they are that Happily Ever After exists, as they have often suffered from the stigma of romance novels: the books are “easy reading” or “not smart enough.”
“That’s why this matters so much to me, because romance novels should be celebrated,” says Pool. “The genre is very broad and it’s incredibly profitable for the publishing industry. And yet, for decades, despite the tireless efforts of authors and readers, romance is somehow relegated to sock drawers and the back of cupboards, and the intelligence of both author and reader is called into question. ”.
Pool attributes the insults to the fact that romance novels give readers, most of them women, agency, which can scare some people. “It encourages (readers) to challenge mediocrity,” he says, “to show that they too deserve respect, consent and trust in their romantic and sexual relationships, to challenge the status quo that ‘romance novels are just fantasy’, when they are often the standard of basic decency that all people deserve in their relationships.
“Everyone,” he adds, “deserves a happily ever after.”
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