Shop Talk

Shop Talk with Katherine Morgan of Grand Gesture Books

Katherine Morgan is the founder and owner of Grand Gesture Books, a new, online-only (for now!) bookshop that specializes in romance books. Grand Gesture opened in November 2023 and is based in Portland, Oregon. You can follow Katherine and Grand Gesture’s journey on Instagram.

What led you to open a romance bookstore?

It felt like a natural kind of instinct to do. I’ve been working as a bookseller at Powell’s Books for about four-and-a-half years. I currently still work there, running the romance section, and it’s always been my happy place, especially since I got into romance during the pandemic. There are so many romance bookstores, which is great, but very few of them are in the Pacific Northwest. 

I knew, based on how much traffic the romance section gets, that if there are this many people who are interested in it, there are going to be people who are interested that live in Portland, or Washington, and want to travel down. That’s when I got the idea: I don’t know if [a romance bookstore] is coming soon, but I know that if it does, I want to be the person who runs and owns it.

How did you come to love books enough to get into the business of selling them?

I’ve always loved books. I’m definitely one of those people who grew up using books as more of a coping mechanism, because I had some problems at home and in school. I was a lonely child. And so it was really nice to escape through these books, and make these new friends and not have to travel and do all these things. Over the years, especially from college till now, my reading had died down a lot, and I just wasn’t reading as much. When I got hired [at Powell’s], I was like, “Great, I guess I could start reading more.” And now that I’m four years in, I definitely have found the joy again of reading. 

I’m going to loop back a little bit. Why did you turn to romance during the pandemic?

It gave me joy when I needed it. And even a few years later, running [the romance] section gives me joy. Getting to meet new customers gives me joy.  

Speaking of joy, it’s still early, but what has been the most enjoyable or rewarding aspect of starting Grand Gesture Books in November 2023?

I worried when I started this endeavor that most of the support I was going to get was going to be through just my friends because they were being nice. But I would say the nice thing is that most people I engage with through the Grand Gesture account are people that I actually don’t know, strangers who are willing to share [my] content, or who are very much asking me about merch. Everyone has been so kind about it, and so interested.
What challenges have you had to work through while preparing to launch? 

I have this habit of comparing myself to others, as, you know, many people do. And there are quite a few romance bookstores. One just opened up in Vancouver, WA  [20 minutes from Portland], and they specialize in used books. It’s called The Romance Era, and they’re great! The owner [Ren Rice] is super lovely, and we’re actually friends now. So it’s been a really fun, yet interesting, moment where I have to say, “Okay, you have to stop comparing yourself to these stores that have been open for years. What can you do to make your store special?” I’ve been learning about that, too.

The nice thing about the store that I’m opening and the store in Vancouver is that they’re both Black-owned. And I haven’t had this happen to me, but the owner of that store mentioned that someone had come into [The Romance Era] and was like, “Oh, did you hear that there’s a new romance store opening in Portland that’s also Black-owned?  How do you feel about that?”

When we ended up talking about it, Ren had a really good insight: It’s not a competition. It’s great to have more stores owned by Black people, especially in the PNW, which is very white.

I think, sometimes, especially when you’re a person of color, you get into the mindset that there can only be one. Living in Oregon, and usually being the one Black person around in general, I have to get over that and say, “No. How can I make sure that we both succeed? How do we all work together to make sure that we all survive?”

How, if at all, does the ongoing environment of book banning influence the way that you select books? 

I really want to be able to highlight more diverse titles and diverse situations. The interesting thing to me has been, when I announced that I was selling romance novels, I did have quite a few people reach out who asked, “Are you going to sell LGBTQ romance novels?” It was a privilege of mine, where I told them, “Yeah, I’m going to sell those, but why would I not??” And then I had to take a step back and remember, there are book bans, and there are people who are not accepting of LGBTQ fiction, and fiction of marginalized communities. And I’m sorry, I just think [book bans are] the dumbest thing in the world. People don’t cease to exist because you stopped selling a book about them.

What’s on the horizon for you and Grand Gesture in the coming months or year? 

I’m going to have a conversation with someone about setting up multiple book clubs. We’re working on merch. I just am really excited to see where it all goes. I hope to be in a brick and mortar in six months. I want to hold myself accountable and hold myself to these deadlines, but at the same time, I have to be in the process of [understanding] things aren’t always going to go my way, or the way I think they should go. And I’m interested in seeing how well I can adapt to that as a business owner, but also as a person.

Black and Brown bookstores owners do the important work of curating, amplifying, and preserving the rich throughline of stories that feed us. They are vital members of our local and global communities. Where there is a movement, there are books. But who captures the stories of the booksellers themselves? In this column, SHOP TALK, profiling booksellers, Dara Mathis turns the lens onto Black and Brown bookstores around the world, honoring the journeys that bring them to our neighborhoods.

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Dara T. Mathis is a nonfiction writer and reporter whose writing has appeared in the Atlantic, the New York Times, the Week, and other places. Her work often examines motherhood, Black liberation movements, and the ways we make home where we are. She resides with her husband and three children in Maryland.