116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
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“Really having something that’s about the community” is how Ursla Lanphear describes Swamp Fox Bookstore’s mission. “It’s Marion’s community.
“We each have our areas that we tend to read and love and are passionate about, but I would say the overlying thing is we wanted something that’s not cookie-cutter, and Marion-specific.”
Lanphear owned and operated M&M New and Used Bookstore in Cedar Rapids before selling the store last June. That experience often came up when talking with friends Terri LeBlanc and Amanda Zhorne.
“We’d often been at meetings together,” said LeBlanc, who was working remotely as an operations manager for a California-based company. “We all said, ‘It would be really nice to have a bookstore in downtown Marion.’”
“So we said, ‘We should do that,’” Lanphear recalled.
The three opened Swamp Fox Bookstore last July in the new West End Shops development on the edge of Marion’s Uptown neighborhood. Anchored by the West End Diner, the project owned by Annette and Jack Perry includes small — 180 square feet — retail spaces for start-up businesses.
Swamp Fox’s neighbors include shops selling vintage clothing, home goods and shoe repair.
Owners: Ursla Lanphear, Terri LeBlanc, Amanda Zhorne
Business: Swamp Fox Bookstore and Swamp Fox Kids
Address: 809 Sixth Ave., Marion
Phone: (319) 249-2064
The shop is open Wednesday through Sunday and by appointment.
“We were looking for just the right spot, and it happened that these were available,” LeBlanc said. “It made it reasonable for us to open during the pandemic — make an investment here and test the waters.”
The store did well through the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Summer was amazing,” said Zhorne, a strategic partner and developer for the Iowa BIG educational program who also worked 17 years as a business development specialist for the Barnes and Noble Booksellers chain.
“The community has been really good and supportive, and the people who come into the store are really excited to have us there. The sentiment has been really good.”
Customer engagement is key to Swamp Fox’s reader community.
“We try to take a lot of feedback from everyone that comes into the store,” Lanphear said. “We have adapted to what the customers let us know they’re looking for.”
The interest of young readers and their parents led to the store’s first expansion, with Swamp Fox Kids opening this spring in a second West End retail space.
“What a lot of people wanted was a place for their families to come,” Lanphear said.
Through the pandemic, Swamp Fox virtually hosted book club meetings, author readings and similar events. Plans call for more in-person events this summer, some partnered with Marion Public Library’s reading programs.
“Right now we’re really focusing on book clubs because those can be small and intimate and easy to move from inside the diner to outside,” LeBlanc said.
Marion readers are interested in a range of subjects and styles, the women found.
“It’s all over the map,” LeBlanc said of customers’ interests. “Since the pandemic started, they’ve been reading more, to escape and relax, and still go someplace without going. A lot of people are looking for something new.”
Carrying a full inventory isn’t possible in a small space, but Swamp Fox’s owners can order or suggest alternate titles.
“We can’t carry all the James Patterson,” said Lanphear, citing the popular mystery-suspense author. “People come in really open to recommendations, knowing we have a really curated collection. That’s been fun.”
“I do like that people walk in really open to that conversation,” Lanphear said.
“It’s fun to sell them a new author they’ve never seen,” Zhorne added.
Coping with the pandemic often meant “finding (customers) something a little different to read that engages them in a different way, or maybe a bit of a lighter read,” LeBlanc said.
“What we most often heard was, ‘I want to read but I can’t seem to focus,” she said. “It’s OK, you’re not alone. We hear that all the time, and it’s happened to us over the past year.“
Books are the focus, but Swamp Fox also carries a selection of toys, puzzles and gift items.
“During the pandemic, puzzles have become such a thing,” Zhorne said.
“We’re still focused mostly on the books, but we’re trying to offer some of those supplemental things that people were doing a bit more of.”
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