Green Apple:
Verdant Pasture for Used Book Buys

By David Grayson

Green Apple is one of the Bay Area’s great bookselling institutions, usually mentioned in the same class as City Lights and Cody’s Books. Situated in a non-trendy neighborhood, on a strip known more for good Chinese food than for a strong literary history, Green Apple might seem an odd place for such a find. But as legions of loyal patrons know, the bookstore that Bay Guardian readers have honored as the best used bookstore for many years, and shut down a neighboring Crown Books some years back, is the place to go for an afternoon of book shopping.

Opened thirty-three years ago by Rich Savoy, Green Apple offers new and used books and music. But the bookstore is known for its immense collection of used books in just about every category imaginable -- it's where you'll likely find that out-of-print volume by an obscure poet you’ve been hunting for. Manager Pete Mulvihill, who has been with the store for six years, says that what distinguishes Green Apple is its breadth and depth. A lot of used bookstores have large selections, Mulvihill asserts, but the quality of titles is lacking.

Having such a strong collection has paid off for Green Apple, owner Rich Savoy says, explaining that the bookstore survives on used book sales. In recent years, with the onset of online bookselling and chain stores, the proportion of used books sold has increased from forty percent of total books to sixty percent.

Stepping into the bookstore, it is easy to understand why Green Apple has become a book-buying mecca. Upon entering, you are greeted with what Mulvihill exhorts as the "Green Apple style": a cluttered, down-to-earth, downright homey environment. The original building, which survived the 1906 earthquake, is a book browser’s dream: every section is extensive and overflowing. For example, the "Art Wall" section alone spans the length of some other bookshops. Two neighboring sections, children’s books and cooking, are just as overwhelming.

Rich Savoy with mascot Mergatroid
Manager Pete Mulvihill

The first floor is only half the story; the "Green Apple style" is perhaps better exemplified on the second floor. Upstairs you’ll find everything from a never-ending psychology section to a transportation section with sub-sections on gliders and subways, extending over a number of cozy rooms. Some of the sections are so large that the staff has had to break them down into useful, though sometimes nearly absurd, parts. For example, the metaphysics area includes UFOs, voodoo, vampires, witchcraft, Satanism, channeling, crystals, alchemy, the Kabbalah, and much more.

To accommodate its collection, a few years ago Green Apple opened the "Fiction and Music Annex" two doors away from the main building. In addition to the expansive fiction stock, there is a great magazine section with over sixty magazines devoted to music alone. The Annex also houses a good CD and vinyl collection -- though it doesn't come close to matching the big music stores.

As you stroll through the bookstore, the staff's personal touch is everywhere. There are handwritten signs naming each room (the Granny Smith Room), a funky classification system ("Call her Ms. Paglia" under critical theory, for instance), and helpful notes by the staff recommending favorite books. Indeed, Mulvihill points out that one of Green Apple’s strengths is its "hell of a staff" who could be making a lot more money in Silicon Valley.

Mulvihill calls the store’s location on Clement Street a "mixed blessing." Although Clement is packed with dozens of shops and buzzes with activity, the neighborhood is not considered trendy and some see it as too outlying. However, being in the same location for a long time helps says Mulvihill, as Green Apple has become a destination store. The Bay Guardian noted in its Best of the Bay feature that "If you’re in the Richmond, chances are you’re visiting used bookstore Best of the Bay champion Green Apple."

Mulvihill says that many customers who come to the store spend the day in the neighborhood, usually eating at one of the restaurants along Clement, or hitting one of the neighborhood pubs or coffeehouses. Exploring Clement Street -- with its numerous Asian restaurants and groceries, Irish pubs, coffeehouses, Russian pharmacies, and sci-fi toy stores -- is a great complement to an afternoon among the books at Green Apple.



Green Apple Books and Music
506 Clement Street, San Francisco, CA 94118 Phone: 415-387-2272

Hours: Sunday-Thursday: 10:00 a.m. - 10:30 p.m.;Friday and Saturday: 10:00 a.m. - 11:30 p.m.