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Lion’s Mouth Bookstore shares 2022 resolutions, plans for the future and life as a bookstore in Green Bay

By Rachel Sankey

Lion’s Mouth Bookstore employee Jordan Safranski (left) and owner Amy Mazzariello. Chris Rugowski (Chicken or The Egg Photography) photo

From first-edition novels to Wisconsin-based authors, there are up to 8,000 books inside Lion’s Mouth Bookstore at any given time.

Located in downtown Green Bay, the bookstore opened in November of 2019. A few months later, the COVID-19 pandemic uprooted owner Amy Mazzariello’s reality and plans for the new, independent bookstore.

Now, as she looks ahead to a new year, Mazzariello spoke to Green Bay City Pages about her 2022 resolutions and goals for this year and beyond. She said she has dreams of expanding the storefront, opening a satellite location, integrating the bookstore more into Green Bay’s literary community and helping child literacy in the area.

A life-long love

As a young child, Mazzariello said she always had an interest in reading and writing.

“When I was growing up in Pulaski in the 80s the public library became a big part of my life,” Mazzariello said. “I had a bunch of brothers and sisters. My mother was a stay at home mom. And in the summertime she would push us out the door because you could do that.”

Mazzariello said she would always wind up at the public library to beat the summer heat. From there she fell in love with books. She said she got to know librarians well and they fostered an interest in reading in her and her siblings.

After graduating from Pulaski High School, Mazzariello went west and found a job at Powell’s Books, a famed Portland bookstore that claims to be the largest independent new and used bookstore in the world.

“I always say (Powell’s) was my associate’s degree because I spent a couple years working there and really learned, without realizing it, that I had learned the business,” Mazzariello said.

Mazzariello lived in Portland for six years, where she met her husband and had their first child. She moved back to Green Bay in 2005 and a year later, she started working at Reader’s Loft, a former Bellevue bookstore that operated for more than two decades and closed in 2019.

From loft to lion

Mazzariello worked at Reader’s Loft for 13 years alongside the owner Virginia Kress.

Mazzariello said that Kress was the type of owner who let her spread her wings and learn through trial and error. After her long tenure at Reader’s Loft, Mazzariello said she knew she wanted to take over when Kress was ready to retire.

“I have always dreamed of having my own bookstore but wasn’t really sure that Green Bay could sustain two,” Mazzariello said. “So when she decided to retire, it was like a no-brainer for me to buy it and move it downtown and just keep it going.”

Mazzariello said she had been looking at the store’s current spot downtown (401 N Washington St) before she even took ownership over Reader’s Loft. She said that Bellevue was nice but it was quiet, and she knew that the downtown Green Bay area had more to offer. However, moving the boxes of books that made up Reader’s Loft from Bellevue to downtown Green Bay was the hardest challenge.

Lion’s Mouth Bookstore (401 N Washington St) opened in downtown Green Bay in November of 2019. Chris Rugowski (Chicken or The Egg Photography) photo

Mazzariello said that she was focused on reassuring her customer base that the change wouldn’t be too drastic.

“I had already been part of the cultivation of a literary community here in Green Bay,” Mazzariello said, “and by bringing the bookstore downtown it just really put into focus for a lot of people that there is a very strong literary community in this area.”

With a new spot came a new name. The bookstore derives its name from a tin that sat on the counter of the Library Company (est. 1731), which was the first lending library in the United States, started by Benjamin Franklin and others. On the front of the tin, a lion with an open mouth sat and an inscription below read “Gentlemen are requested to deposit in the Lion’s Mouth the titles of such books as they may wish to have imported.”

Navigating the unknown

Lion’s Mouth opened with its new name and ownership on November 4, 2019. Five months later, the world shut down.

Mazzariello said the store shifted gears during the initial COVID-19 lockdown. During this time she had to let one employee go and for some time it was just her running the shop. Mazzariello said she would open the store at 9 am for curbside pick up, then from 2 to 6 pm she would deliver local orders to Brown County residents.

“Being an independent bookseller is a challenge every day,” Mazzariello said, “there’s so many things working against us. But for whatever reason, we just always keep going. It’s kind of in our blood.”

Lion’s Mouth Bookstore employee Jordan Safranski assists customers inside the bookstore. Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Lion’s Mouth has had to diversify its business operations to safely get books into customers’ hands. Chris Rugowski (Chicken or The Egg Photography) photo

The bookstore offered in-store shopping again in May of 2020. Now, Lion’s Mouth is made up of four employees–Amy Mazzariello, Jordan Safranski, Noah Jenquin and an international employee who handles social media content.

Lion’s Mouth typically houses around 8,000 books, which is 12,000 less than Reader’s Loft’s original inventory. Mazzariello said she went through and hand-picked all the books she wished to take over to Lion’s Mouth. About 100 banker boxes were donated to the Brown County Library.

“In order for a bookstore to remain viable, you have to sell your number (of books) three times in a year, two and a half to three times,” Mazzariello said. “They call it turns. You’re supposed to be able to turn your store two to three times in a year.”

Mazzariello said since moving to the downtown Green Bay location, the bookstore has doubled its sales.

Lion’s Mouth houses both new and used books, as well as first edition copies. They acquire used books from their customers through a trade program, where people bring their books in, and if Mazzariello thinks it’s a book that will work in the store, they receive a store credit.

It’s the same process for first edition books, however, Mazzariello said she always calls the customer first to let them know that it is a first edition, how much it is worth and whether or not they still wish to get the store credit or take it back and sell it on their own.

Looking ahead

Lion’s Mouth offers outdoor events in the spring and summertime, such as author visits and book signings, and has also partnered with the Brown County Library and UntitledTown, an annual author and book festival hosted in Green Bay.

Mazzariello said indoor events won’t start happening until COVID numbers go down.

These community events are part of a bigger plan for Mazzariello. She said plans to host more events and she wants to see more kids reading books, a subject near to her heart.

Currently, Lion’s Mouth works with school districts in Green Bay, De Pere, Howard and the Oneida Nation (where they are the official book vendor) to help promote children’s literacy. Lion’s Mouth recently sent over 300 books to East De Pere literacy teachers.

“We have a really robust nonprofit in-school library program going on,” Mazzariello said, “which has been really great because it connects us with bigger groups in the community, which is always our goal.”

The children’s section inside Lion’s Mouth Bookstore features a place for children to explore books. Owner Amy Mazzariello said she hopes to expand her children’s section as well as continue her efforts to increase children’s literacy in the future. Chris Rugowski (Chicken or The Egg Photography) photo

In her dreams for the future, Mazzariello also said she wants to expand the storefront sometime in the future, with hopes to increase community gatherings, offer non-book inventory and expand their children’s section.

“I really would love to have a salon style setting where you have your coffee and tea from 7 to 2, then shut things down from 2 to 5,” Mazzariello said, “and then open back up and it’s kind of like grown ups and just hang out. I really think a bookstore should offer a place where people can gather and talk about ideas.”

Mazzariello also said she has looked into opening a satellite store in the Appleton area, furthering Lion’s Mouth’s regional footprint.

Reading is trendy again

Currently, Mazzariello said Green Bay residents can’t seem to get enough of Charlie Beren’s new book The Midwest Survival Guide: How We Talk, Love, Work, Drink, and Eat … Everything with Ranch which is out of stock from the publisher. She said that people are looking to be comforted by humor and Charlie Beren’s ability to tap into Wisconsin communities’ identities.

She also said she’s seen more and more people come into the store and search out books they’ve found on TikTok and other online trends. She said this renewed interest in books comes at a time where people could do well to pick up a book and share ideas.

“Reading has become trendy again,” Mazzariello said, “which is nice. I think we’re living in a time where there’s a lot of uncertainty, a lot of sadness. A lot of privilege that people don’t understand—and privilege is not meant to be a bad thing. So I think the more that we read and the more that we engage in these conversations, the better off we are as a whole.”

Rachel Sankey is an Arts and Entertainment Reporter for Green Bay City Pages. She can be reached via email at [email protected]

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