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Inside Tropes & Trifles, the Twin Cities’ Only Romance Bookstore

Come on in, Booktokers—there's an enemies-to-lovers story with your name on it.

9:27 AM CST on November 30, 2023

Stacy Brooks|

Now open in the Standish neighborhood at 2709 E. 38th St., just in time for holiday gift-giving!

From the moment you walk in the door at Tropes & Trifles, you know you’re in the Twin Cities’ only romance bookstore. There’s a table at the front piled with novels representing the trope of the month, Grumpy to Sunshine. By the cash register, customers can vote for their favorite protagonist archetype by dropping plastic pastel beads into little jars labeled Stern Brunch Daddy, Cinnamon Roll, and Rake. There are bookmarks adorned with erotic sketches and shelves filled with titles like Kiss and Spell, A Lady for a Duke, and A Night to Surrender. At Tropes & Trifles, romance isn’t a guilty pleasure—it’s unapologetically celebrated.

Tropes & Trifles co-owners Lauren Richards and Caitlin O’Neil are enthusiastic boosters of the genre, and they’ve even co-authored a “Why Read Romance” zine. Richards, who previously worked as a political consultant, is a lifelong bookworm who gravitated to romance books after her mother’s cancer diagnosis. 

“I didn’t want to read books that would make me sad, because the world and my life at that time were sad enough,” she says. “I wanted to read books where whatever bad things are thrown at these characters, in the end, everything will be okay. These are books that have really beautiful stories, even when someone is being revenge kidnapped—they’re all about people learning to communicate and having relationships with each other.”

This month's trope: grumpy to sunshine.Stacy Brooks

O’Neil recalls buying her first romance novel at age 11, eventually returning to the genre via her work as a French translator. 

“The first book I translated was a book of erotica-adjacent fiction, and everything I was writing in English was just awful. I didn’t know any of the English words that I should be using to make something seem pleasurable, as opposed to uncomfortable,” she explains. “I thought, who writes really good erotica?  Romance authors. So I started reading romance again, and analyzing those key scenes and making word lists of the evocative language those authors were using. And it helped me immensely, but by that point I was no longer reading to analyze. I was reading for fun, and I never looked back.”

Richards and O’Neil met through a romance book club, and after Richards made a few comments about opening a romance bookstore, O’Neil slid into her DMs in late 2022. Over the past year, they’ve done the research and legwork required to launch a brick-'n'-mortar bookstore, culminating with a series of pop-up events this fall and their holiday storefront in Minneapolis’s Standish neighborhood at 2709 E. 38th St., which will be running through the end of the year.  

Although it only opened only a few weeks ago, the shop already has a lived-in, community-oriented feel, with a wall of origami hearts behind the cash register and vintage chairs upholstered with a cheery paisley print. Bookshelves are festooned with “shelf talkers,” handwritten book recommendations from Richards, O’Neil, and customers.  

Shelf talkers aren't just for the staff—anyone can recommend a steamy read.Stacy Brooks

“It’s a great way to build community, for people to see the books they love on the shelf and be able to talk about them,” O’Neil says. “It creates a form of connection through readers which is really rewarding to see.”

The books themselves are meticulously organized, with shelves at the front of the shop highlighting local authors and new releases. The largest section is devoted to contemporary romance, with historical romance and paranormal romance well-represented, as well as smaller sections devoted to the classics, “not-quite-romance” literature with romantic themes, young adult books, and non-fiction dealing with topics such as sexuality, gender identity, and writing erotica. The shop also stocks locally made products like fabric book sleeves, stickers, cards, and earrings, many with romance-adjacent themes.

What stands out the most about the book selection is the sheer variety. Covers depict Black, Hispanic, and Asian characters, queer couples locked in passionate embraces, trans people, interracial couples, and a woman wearing a hijab—whoever you are, there’s likely a romance novel that reflects you at Tropes & Trifles.

“We have the space to take risks on books other stores don’t have the space for,” says O’Neil. “We can make this as diverse as possible.”

“One of the interesting things to see is how diversity is expanding in the historical section as well,” adds Richards, mentioning Black historical romance author Beverly Jenkins and Will Forrest, who primarily writes male-male Regency era romance. “It’s important to us to make sure that section is just as diverse as all of the other sections in the store.”

She also cites the paranormal section as representative of the genre’s diversity, with titles like Queer Werewolves Destroy Capitalism.

“I love when an author can write a story in which homophobia doesn’t exist, because it doesn’t take place in the world in which we live," she says. "They can ignore these constructs of things that exist in our world: homophobia, sexism, all those things.”

In addition to reflecting diverse race and gender identities, books feature a range of heat levels from “closed door” (anything more explicit than kissing happens off page) to hardcore erotica. There are a variety of price points, including more budget-friendly mass market paperbacks. The selection also includes backlist titles and self-published works, which are often challenging to find in print.

“I think everyone has their own reason why they come to the genre, and there really is something for everyone, as long as they’re open to exploring,” O’Neil says. “There is such a wide variety—there’s a trope for everyone, there’s a happy ending for everyone.” 

A handful of magical reads line the paranormal romance table.Stacy Brooks

Tropes & Trifles has already enjoyed an enthusiastic reception from the neighborhood.

“The comment that we often get is ‘Finally!’” says O’Neil. “Finally we have a romance bookstore. Because they do exist in other places around the country.”

A social media post from local book influencer Katelyn Moon sums up the excitement around Tropes & Trifles: Moon writes that she “found her people” when she visited on opening day and plans on returning “approximately a million more times.” 

In addition to the excitement from patrons, O’Neil notes that she and Richards are grateful for the support of the local bookselling community: "They’ve been offering mentorship, they’ve been inviting us into group chats to ask questions, and since we’ve opened they’ve been referring customers over to us if they’re looking for specific romance titles.”

Since things are still in flux, Richards and O’Neil are reticent about their plans after the holiday season. However, they promise Tropes & Trifles will “exist in some form in 2024.” 

“We quit our jobs to be here, we are doing this!” O’Neil says.

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