Grand Gesture Books, a new Black and woman–owned online shop devoted to romance, launched just ahead of the holiday weekend, on November 21. Founder Katherine Morgan is looking to move into a bricks-and-mortar storefront in her home city of Portland, Ore., by August 2024.

Morgan works part-time as a frontline bookseller at Powell’s City of Books in Portland, and in customer service for She started as a bookseller at Powell’s in 2017, and in 2020, she completed an internship at Catapult Books. When Powell’s laid her off at the start of the pandemic, Catapult’s then-publisher Andy Hunter hired her on to his burgeoning e-tail venture, Morgan stuck with even after Powell’s brought her back on board.

It was during 2020 that Morgan became a fan of romance too. “The nice thing about romance is, you always know how it’s going to end,” she said, acknowledging the comfort of a happy outcome and “a beautiful sense of hope.” When she recommends a romance title to one customer at Powell’s, she said, several more visitors often gather to share ideas. “No matter how tough the day is, the romance section gives me such bliss.”

About three months ago, Morgan decided to make her fondness for romance official by creating her own business. She struggled with what to call it. “Nothing was really clicking,” and all the best tropes seemed to have been taken by the Ripped Bodice bookstore (Los Angeles), Meet Cute Romantic Bookshop (San Diego), and Grump and Sunshine Bookshop (Belfast, Maine). Then, while watching the 2018 romcom Book Club, Morgan told her boyfriend, “The guy is about to do the grand gesture! That’s the best part of the movie.” Her friend responded that she should name her bookstore Grand Gesture, after the essential formulaic moment when a character makes a dramatic play for true love. “He gets half the credit” for the shop's name, Morgan said.

While preparing the online opening, Morgan compared notes with friend Ren Rice, who in early November established The Romance Era bookstore in nearby Vancouver, Wash. (The Romance Era, which is Black and queer–owned, sells new books online and used titles at its bricks-and-mortar location, and hosts pop-up vendors.)

Morgan also created lists for her site, among them are “Katherine’s Favorites of 2023” and “Maasassins: Everything Sarah J. Maas.” LGBTQ books, BIPOC authors and content, neurodivergence, and plus-size romances are popular, she observed. “You can look at the dashboard and pending transactions, and you can see how people got there” by clicking through the site and making buying decisions, she said. “Queer romances have been selling hot, which makes me happy. Alexandria Bellefleur’s The Fiancée Farce is my favorite book of the year—even at Powell’s, I’ve been hyping that one up.”

Morgan is open to crossing categories, with forays into memoir and relationship advice. “Everyone’s into love in general,” she said. “I’ll be selling romance, but also talking about being a good friend, platonic things, self-love.” As a Black bookseller, she sees romance diversifying in promising directions at publishers such as Forever and Sourcebooks, and she believes readers dig nontraditional options. People from historically marginalized identities "finally realized there is a space for them in this genre," she said, while white or heteronormative readers have decided "I don’t necessarily need to see myself on the cover of this book."

If all goes well with Grand Gesture, Morgan will take things to the next level with a storefront and event space in the coming months. She's working with a realtor to find “a central hub” for visitors and authors, because “events and bookstores go hand in hand,” she said. “My requirements are that it’s accessible and on a major bus line. I firmly believe I can’t have a bookstore about happy endings if people can’t make it through the front door” and move freely around the space.