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Independent bookstores continue to serve the Chapel Hill community despite COVID-19

Flyleaf Books Owner Jamie Fiocco said that in addition to the financial motivation of continuing operations through online and curbside pick-up orders, another reason stems from Flyleaf’s role as part of the fabric of the community. Flyleaf Books is located at 752 M.L.K. Jr Blvd.

Flyleaf Books and Epilogue Books Chocolate Brews are continuing to serve the Chapel Hill community with curbside pickup and online ordering amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, adding challenges to those already faced by independent local bookstores.

At Flyleaf Books, a core group of about six employees is working to take curbside pick-up orders over the phone and fulfill online orders.

One of those employees is Gage Tarlton, a UNC senior who is now picking up extra hours at the bookstore since UNC extended spring break and moved to online class instruction.

To participate in curbside pick-up, community members can call Flyleaf Books where an employee will help determine what books they’d like to purchase, set aside those books for them and run their order out to the car once they arrive at the store, Tarlton said.

After Flyleaf's first day of curbside pick-up, Tarlton tweeted:  

“currently working at a bookstore and we aren’t open to the public but doing online orders/curbside pickups and everyone is BEING SO NICE AND KIND AND WANTS TO READ BOOKS and it’s giving me a lot of much needed hope."

Tarlton said even though COVID-19 makes for a hectic reality, instead of being frustrated, customers have been thankful and reacted positively toward the bookstore’s efforts to remain open — even if in limited capacity. 

“We all know how some people are to customer service employees,” Tarlton said. “I was so shocked that people were being so nice. Every time we got on the phone, they were like, ‘Thank you guys for staying open and doing this, this is such a great idea.'”

Flyleaf Books Owner Jamie Fiocco said that in addition to the financial motivation of continuing operations through online and curbside pick-up orders, Flyleaf’s role as part of the fabric of the community also keeps them going.

“It sounds kind of silly, but it's a time when people probably need to have something to comfort them and books are often something that people turn to,” Fiocco said. “So, if we can provide a service and keep us employed at the same time and help our community, we know it's a win-win.”

Fiocco said they plan to continue curbside pick-up as long as they can, but if a shelter in place is announced, customers can still order books from Flyleaf online and have them shipped to their homes. 

Epilogue, which opened four months ago, is offering a similar solution to community members who want to support local businesses and keep up their reading habit. 

“These are hard times and books offer an escape from the current situation,” Jaime Sanchez, one of Epilogue's owners, said. “We do hopefully offer hope or simply a way to not have to think about the terrible situation we're in.”

In addition to ordering physical copies of books online, customers can also purchase audiobooks through Epilogue.

Jaime Sanchez said people come to Epilogue for the experience. With only online book ordering services, the cafe side of their business is inaccessible to customers, impacting the independent bookstore’s ability to provide employees with the hours and income they are used to receiving.

Jaime Sanchez said he and co-owner Miranda Sanchez feel as though they’ve failed their employees. Other than themselves, only one out of their 23 employees is working.

“On a personal level, Miranda and I take it very hard whenever we fail our employees and right now we feel like we're failing them," Jaime Sanchez said. "We understand that it's outside our control but day to day we constantly think of our employees and how we can help them.”

Like Flyleaf Books, Epilogue is assessing their plan day by day and will try to continue to serve the community to the best of their ability, Sanchez said. 


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