The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Friday May 7th

Column: How Flyleaf Books weathered the pandemic

Jamie Fiocco, owner and general manager of Flyleaf Books, poses for a portrait at her bookstore. Photo courtesy of Jamie Fiocco.
Buy Photos Jamie Fiocco, owner and general manager of Flyleaf Books, poses for a portrait at her bookstore. Photo courtesy of Jamie Fiocco.

The OC Voice is a portion of the OC Report newsletter where local residents may have a platform to talk about local issues they care about. Jamie Fiocco is the owner of Flyleaf Books. 

Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill is an independent bookstore that offers new and used books, as well as stationery, puzzles and gift items. Prior to the pandemic, we hosted over 350 author readings and community events a year. That all changed, of course, when we closed to the public in March 2020. 

If you live in Orange County and want to make your voice heard on something you care about locally, email city@dailytarheel.com

Deemed an essential business, we were able to work in the shop to fulfill online and telephone orders. However, the challenges of keeping the business going and staff safe were never-ending. The book business works on razor-thin margins and now we were spending tens of thousands of dollars on shipping costs, shipping materials and PPE supplies. We spent over $40,000 on these previously insignificant budget items. 

We were included in a New York Times article about independent bookstores during the pandemic, and I penned an opinion piece in Publisher’s Weekly. However, we were not alone in networking with other independent booksellers and businesses near and far. We found crucial support navigating the government relief plans with the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce and state retail organizations. 

We remained closed until Oct. 6, constantly pivoting our business model from bricks-and-mortar to selling books any way we could — online, phone, email and even through the windows! Pre-pandemic, our website accounted for 2 percent of our business, but overnight it quickly became our lifeline. 

A year later, it still accounts for nearly half of our sales. We knew we had to reopen for the holidays to survive financially, as November and December account for over 30 percent of our yearly business. After many discussions among staff, we settled on conditions for allowing customers back. 

The pandemic has been a physically and emotionally challenging time for everyone at Flyleaf Books. Certainly, no one anywhere has had an easy time but being part of a public-facing business was an extra hurdle. 

We so value our connection with our customers and the schools and groups we work with. Our mission is to help our community, and we struggled to keep that connection going while closed. 

We have been deeply gratified and moved that so many folks stood by us, ordering books through the website and phoning in orders. As a staff, we pulled together, created our own “COVID pod” and supported each other with weekly mental health check-ins and discussions on improving store operations. Author events have been virtual and will likely continue that way through the year as few publishers are planning author tours.

As we look at a post-pandemic world, we will keep with us some of our new practices: curbside pickup, mailing orders, some virtual events and an improved website. We have been buoyed by customers telling us how much Flyleaf means to them and the community and we have been sustained by their commerce and their friendship. 

If you live in Orange County and want to make your voice heard on something you care about locally, email city@dailytarheel.com. 



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