Jenny Pool started reading novels when she was a child and she looted them from the bag on her grandmother’s porch. ‘I’ve always been a lover of love stories,’ she says, ‘even when I was reading ‘Anne of Green Gables’. Who doesn’t love Anne and Gil’s love story?” She liked that novels usually guaranteed a happy ending—along with some captivating trials and tribulations along the way.
While there are a handful of American bookstores that specialize in romance (Pool is especially fond of the Ripped Bodice in Culver City, California), Pool had longed to start one in Canada for years. It took COVID to force her into entrepreneurship. “After working at my dinner table for two years during the pandemic, I was desperate for that kind of human connection that we had all missed,” she says. “It made me realize how much I love talking to people and how I would love to talk to people about something I love so much: books.”
The Whitby resident launched the country’s first romantic bookstore, Happily Ever After, as an online store in May and has been hosting personal popups ever since. “Even though we don’t have a physical store, the connections I made through our pop-ups and through social media have been amazing,” she says. Then the store will make its appearance in the Society Clubhouse in Dufferin Grove on August 20 to celebrate Bookstore Romance Day with the Society of Beer Drinking Ladies. On September 25, it comes in the fall pop-up of Word on the Street at Evergreen Brick Works.
Happily Ever After features a wide variety of romantic genres, from historical and contemporary to science fiction, fantasy and paranormal. And yes, says Pool, “we 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 who want to sell them on the intergalactic market,” Pool says. “However, the ship crashes on a frozen planet and the women are found by the locals, whom they naturally fall in love with.”
The books that Pool sells vary in spiciness, so there is something for everyone. Pool is also proud to have more indie authors, which are hard to find in larger bookstores; some Ontario-based favorites include Jackie Lau, Hudson Lin, Kelly Siskind, Rosanna Leo, and Zoe York.
Having a romance-only bookstore, she says, has helped fans feel a little better about their passion for these stories. Readers tell Pool how grateful they are that Happily Ever After exists, as they have often suffered from the stigma attached to novels — that the books are “easy to read” or “not smart enough.”
“That’s why this is so important to me, because romantic novels should be celebrated,” says Pool. “The genre is huge and it’s incredibly profitable for the publishing house. And yet for decades, despite the tireless efforts of authors and readers, romance has somehow been relegated to sock drawers and the backs of closets, the intelligence of both the author and the reader surveyed.
Pool attributes the insults to the fact that novels give readers — most women — agency, which can be scary for some people. “It encourages (readers) to challenge mediocrity,” she says, “to show that they also deserve respect and consent and trust in their romantic and sexual relationships, to challenge the status quo that “novels novels are just a fantasy’, when they often set the standard of decency that all people deserve in their relationships.
“Everyone,” she adds, “deserves happily ever after.”