BELFAST—There’s a handwritten sign on the door of Belfast’s newest independent bookshop, Grump & Sunshine at 159 High Street, that reads: “Shame does not exist between these four walls. Please keep judgment to yourself.”
The expansive and rose-colored shop owned by 25-year-old Cassidy James Taylor is a haven, she says, for people who love romance novels and aren’t ashamed of it.
“When you come in here, whatever you like in romance is acceptable, and that you’re supported,” she said. “I had a customer come in, mention that sign and tell me she appreciated that because she’d been told that romance is silly and she shouldn’t read it.”
Having been a solo entrepreneur since the age of 17 and a lover of romance novels all of her life, she officially opened the shop on May 22, 2023.
“I grew up on books,” she said. “I was a shy kid— still shy,” she said. “Books were my best friend and put me into worlds that weren’t my own.”
Romance is having a resurgence. “Over the last several years, particularly through the pandemic, romance as a genre has skyrocketed,” she said. “The number of big-name publishers who are taking on romance has increased; usually it’s been smaller independent presses and self-published authors dominating the romance genre. There are now publishers branching off and having only romance-only sections.”
Her shop, done up in lots of pink and florals, has subgenres of romance grouped together in little clustered stacks all around the store.
For example: mafia and hockey romance—who knew that such subgenres even existed?
“Hockey romance is having a huge surge right now,” she said, “There’s even a bump in female viewing of hockey games on TV because of so many women getting into the books.”
“There are so many subgenres so I try to have as many as I can,” she said.
Her shop additionally carries fantasy, historical, contemporary, paranormal, LGBTQ, young adult, and even a category she calls: MILF but the “M” stand for monster.”
“Generally in monster romance, the female is human and the male is not,” she said.
That’s to say, love can be found in many forms, faces, and fetishes.
Take, for example, her “kink” section, which harkens back to the sign she’s got posted on her door. One title seemed to be taboo to pick up: “Your Dad Will Do” a book by Katee Robert, about seducing her cheating fiance’s father.
The name of her store is a fitting nod to the industry.
“Grump and Sunshine is a trope within the romance genre,” she said. “It’s generally when opposites attract: one person is grumpy and sour and the other is sunny and the name just kind of fits what I wanted for the shop.”
Taylor is now the fourth bookstore in tiny Belfast, which boats a big, book-rich community.
“The other bookstores have been so supportive; we’re all different from one another and I think it definitely works,” said Taylor. “People have come in and told me they’ve never seen some of these authors before, so we get to expose them to all kinds of new ways to read.”
Taylor said she also carries Maine authors who specialize in romance and intends to hold author readings and events in the future. Based on feedback she’s gotten so far, she thinks Grump & Sunshine might be a destination store.
“We’re the only romance-only bookshop in Maine,” she said. “here are a few in the country and one in Canada.”
Grump & Sunshine will be open six days a week.
Kay Stephens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org