In 1998, Chapel Hill lost the Original Intimate Bookshop, the city's flagship independent bookstore. Since then, the Bull's Head Bookshop has been the closest thing to a prominent, nonchain store for new books, but its location on the UNC campus and the lack of parking space makes it hard to access for the casual book buyer or browser.
Consequently, location is everything to Flyleaf Books, which opened up its doors on a recent Saturday morning for a tour of the still-under-construction, 5,200-square-foot space. Situated in the Midtown Market shopping center, Flyleaf Books anticipates drawing customers from such well-established neighboring businesses as Foster's and the Flying Burrito.
"This project came to fruition in large part because Ron Strom, the owner of the shopping center, was looking for an independent business to anchor the center, and his 18-year-old daughter Hannah suggested a bookstore," says Jamie Fiocco, general manager of the store. "At the same time this was happening, [my partners] and I were—independently—thinking of how to 'do our own thing' but still stay in the book world. The missions collided, and Flyleaf Books is the result."
The Indy spoke to the Flyleaf Books management trio—Fiocco, children's manager Sarah Carr and storefront manager Land Arnold—about the process and challenges of bringing an independent bookstore to Chapel Hill in a down economy.
Independent: Do you feel that you have a window of opportunity while the economic climate is depressed to get your store up and running, so that when things lift, you'll be ready?
Fiocco: There is some of that. I will in hindsight be curious to see how that plays out. But I think it's safe to say, for us personally, we think that this is just the right place no matter when.
Sarah Carr: Sometimes the right opportunity only comes once ... You don't want to get 10 years down the line and say, "I wish I had done that." You have to follow what you want to do.
Do you think this area can support and nurture an independent bookstore?
Carr: Certainly. We've had positive feedback just from the number of people who walk by as the construction workers are doing their thing and ask about the store and get excited about our opening.
Their enthusiasm indicates that, yes, it can.
Fiocco: We have two publishers here, Algonquin Books and UNC Press ... I just think this is a literary community ... It deserves an independent bookstore, and regardless of the economy, people understand and appreciate literature.
Is it important to have an online presence when opening a 21st-century retail store?
Land Arnold: Yes. It's about marketing and being present in a different medium that grows so quickly. I think it's important to be a part of that conversation, because that's where a lot of book talk, as well as people's interest, has gone. It's good to meet the needs of customers who shop online also.
Carr: It's important to let people know there is an alternative to the big-box bookstores online. You can support the local economy from your computer. We want you to physically come into our space, but if for some reason you just can't do it, we still want to be there for you, the reader. We'll link to all of our used inventory in the store, so a customer will get access to several options.
Fioco: Everything comes down to a personal relationship. I think any good business [that] has owners who are present and [have] a solid relationship with the community is going to do well. It's going to be up to us whether this is a success or not. It's about being present and aware of what's going on and making connections within the community.
Flyleaf's soft opening is planned for Monday, Nov. 16, with hours of operation from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Saturday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. Visit www.flyleaf.indiebound.com for more information.