Making a Living, Making a Difference: Flyleaf Books

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Making a Living, Making a Difference

Jamie Fiocco and the Flyleaf Books Team

 By Tom Griffen

A flyleaf is defined as an empty page at the beginning or end of a book. A page that precludes and concludes a new experience. An unblemished, inspirational space.

Which makes it the perfect metaphor for Chapel Hill’s independent bookseller, Flyleaf Books, founded by Chapel Hillian Jamie Fiocco and her husband Michael in November 2009.

Owning a retail shop was never on Jamie’s radar. But she knows books—her professional past is lined with them.

Straight out of college, Jamie spent a year working at Copytron, a Franklin Street print shop. This was followed by 11 years at Carrboro-based computer book publisher, Ventana Press, where she ultimately became their international sales manager. She then opened a consulting business and helped tech publishers get international distribution. Eventually she took a management position with McIntyre’s Books in Pittsboro where she stayed for 4 years.

In 2009, Ron Strom, the owner of Midtown Market Shopping Center began contacting local indy book stores the hope that one might want to fill his center’s largest (and long-time vacant) space with a satellite shop. None were interested.

But Jamie knew the space well. Over the years it had housed A&P Supermarket, Meats and Treats, and a women’s fitness center. She was intrigued.

“In spring 2009 I started thinking seriously about it,” Jamie said. “I wanted a change in career and thought I’d open a store. But the economy was not so great, which was double craziness.”

Still, she went for it. Since then, there’s been an indy renaissance.

“We were well-timed to surf that wave and the town was ripe for it, too,” she said. “Chapel Hill understood the need for an indy book store, but also for an indy business.”

Jamie has fond memories of The Intimate Bookshop, a Franklin Street legacy.

“It never really recovered from the fire in 1992,” she said. “By the time we opened it had been a while since the town had an independent book shop.”

And by “independent book shop,” Jamie means a shop that sells a multi-genre assortment of primarily new books.

“We’ve had some really great shops: The Intimate, Chapel Hill Comics, The Internationalist, The Bookshop,” she said, “but sadly they are now closed or will be closing down soon.”

Jamie believes this happens less from a lack of customers and more due to landlords and rents.

“The desire for books hasn’t changed,” she said.

Which motivates Jamie and her team to stay prepared to better serve the next person through the door.

“We want to be approachable and not pushy. We want to have a relationship with our customers. Share passion with them,” she said.

Jamie sums up Flyleaf’s goal with one word—discovery.

“The idea of a thought becoming an object always seemed pretty magical to me,” she said.

So she tries to let these objects—the books—do the talking.

“From my time in publishing, I understand how much time is put into the back and front covers,” Jamie said. “Flyleaf’s displays are the direct result of my having participated in long meetings discussing color and design.”

The staff’s hand-written suggestion cards remain a customer favorite. Some shoppers even follow a certain employee’s reviews by tracking their handwriting.

The staffers at Flyleaf are self-proclaimed book nerds. But there’s more to their world than just reading. They describe themselves as artists and creators, activists and poets, musicians and rock climbers—and refer to their team as a thoughtful, passionate, and collaborative group of people.

Jamie insists employees are driven by a chance to interact with customers and visiting authors in a safe and constructive place. A place where folks can learn new things. Where free speech is encouraged and defended.

“I didn’t realize how important this was to me and the business until we were faced with it,” Jamie said. “Free speech is an integral part of our store culture. We want to use it in a constructive way so that folks can make up their own minds on issues.”

Owning a business has changed the way Jamie interacts with the community. She shops in places she respects, pays with cash when she can, and frequents places where she’s able to develop a relationship with employees.

“Flyleaf has broadened my understanding of where I live and how I spend money,” she said.

Jamie’s pretty confident that the community will continue to build Flyleaf. She and her team pay close attention to any feedback received.

“Some days we make a living, some days we make a difference,” Jamie said. “We’re at our best when we get to do both.”