Anchorage sisters tap readers’ rapture for romance with new bookstore

A woman in a pink sweater welcomes in people to her store.
Ally Hartman, co-owner of Beauty and the Book Alaska, welcomes in customers for the store’s grand opening in Anchorage on Saturday, June 8, 2024. (Matt Faubion/Alaska Public Media)

Ally Hartman and Baylee Loyd’s bookstore in Anchorage is an experience. Each of the three rooms has a distinct vibe and different subgenres sorted by colors on the shelves. One room is green and white, another pink, and the third is black. 

“The dark room isn’t going to be all romance. It’s going to be mostly dark romance and fantasy. Because the books, their covers, mostly fit that vibe,” Hartman said.

Growing up, Loyd said she would read whatever she could get her hands on. Hartman said she hasn’t always enjoyed reading. But when both sisters became pregnant in 2022, Loyd said it gave them something to bond over. 

“It was books. And then that’s how this whole thing came together,” said Loyd.

Beauty and the Book Alaska specializes in the romance genre — a growing trend in Alaska and around the country. The store, located in the City Center strip mall in Midtown, has been a fun and fulfilling project for two sisters who bonded over reading after giving birth to their first children. 

Loyd said she didn’t have much time to read as a young adult. She was working full time, trying new hobbies and managing a social life. She said she fell into deep postpartum depression after giving birth and was looking for a healthy coping mechanism. She started reading the Ice Planet Barbarians series by Ruby Dixon. 

“I read all 35 books in the series, within two weeks,” Loyd said.

A woman handing another lady a book
Baylee Loyd, co-owner of Beauty and the Book, ringing up customers for the store’s grand opening in Anchorage on Saturday, June 8, 2024. (Matt Faubion/Alaska Public Media)

At least nine other romance book stores opened across the country last year. Several more, including Beauty and the Book, are opening this year. The stores are taking advantage of a boom for the genre. In 2022, sales of romance books surged about 52% according to Publishers Weekly. 

Some experts credit the TikTok hashtag #Booktok with helping drive the trend. It’s a large subcommunity with over 33 million posts on TikTok where readers share and review books they’ve read. 

Dozens of customers lined up down the sidewalk on opening day Saturday. The sisters said they were surprised when customers began lining up almost an hour before opening. 

Hartman said they wanted to create a kind of “haven” in person for romance book lovers in Anchorage. Loyd said their store has something for everyone, from sports to scientific romance, to more subtle forms of the genre.

“You can read a fade to black where you don’t get any of the super hardcore romance scenes,” Loyd said. “You get a kiss and a cuddle and then the book’s over. And that’s perfect for some people.”

Hartman and Loyd say they also want their store to carry a selection of romance novels that readers can’t find at big box stores. They reached out to individual authors rather than publishers to stock their shelves, which Hartman said had its perks.

“They [authors] were sending us swag to have here that match their books, they were sending us signed books,” Hartman said. “And sending us all their love and support giving us connections to publishers.”

A woman with a bunch of books waits in line.
Charlie Soderstrom waits in line to purchase her recent finds at Beauty and the Book Alaska in Anchorage on Saturday, June 8, 2024. (Matt Faubion/Alaska Public Media)

The sisters say their mom, Sasha Loyd, is their biggest supporter and encouraged them to bring personality to the space. She’s also their investor. The sisters say their mom isn’t a reader, but read a four-book series they recommended in a month. Loyd admits she reads on her Kindle, but she said traditional book is a different experience.

“There’s really nothing like going into a store and grabbing a book that the cover looks interesting. Or you heard about it on #Booktok and you didn’t go straight to your Kindle and download it,” Loyd said.

The sisters are fans of numerous romance book stores, but one of their favorites happens to be a few hours away.

Olivia Pack opened The Ivy in Fairbanks in February. To her knowledge, it was the first romance bookstore in the state. She said she’s always been a reader. She said there isn’t much to do for fun in Fairbanks if you’re not an outdoorsy person. 

Pack is a mother to twin toddlers. Like Baylee Loyd, Pack said reading helped her postpartum depression and anxiety. She said The Ivy provides a space for mothers to escape in a book and “live a different life for a moment.”

“I just figured, what would be better than to open up a romance bookstore and help give women you know, a healthy hobby to have outside of like being a mom or working full time or whatever it is,” said Pack.

Pack said she wasn’t sure how much of a demand there was for romance novels, or a bookstore dedicated to them. But she said customers were lined up outside the building opening day, and many became regulars.

She said the community gets excited about new local businesses popping up, whether it be her bookstore or a restaurant.

“Anytime a new small business pops up, and just once I’ve been here for a long time, everyone really tries to nurture them and you know, just really support them,” Pack said.

For Pack and the Beauty and the Book sisters, opening the bookstores is a passion project. Hartman said she’s not expecting to get rich off selling books, and it’s not her goal either. 

“This is something we’re going to enjoy doing,” Hartman said. “It’s just something fun, you know. You live such a short life. You can work super, super hard, or you can enjoy the little things. And this is one of those little things that we can enjoy.”

Beauty and the Book sold so much inventory on opening day that they couldn’t reopen Sunday. But by Wednesday, they had restocked the shelves, and were ready to sell more books. 

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