Sister Store Sundays: Green Apple Books of San Francisco

Welcome to the first installment of our new blog series “Sister Store Sundays”.
Every Sunday we will feature a quick Q&A with another Independent Bookstore. We want to introduce you to some of the fabulous people who are nurturing the cultural conversation around the country. This week we are excited to feature Green Apple Books of San Francisco. Green Apple is co-owned by three former employees: Kevin Hunsanger, Kevin Ryan, and Pete Mulvihill. Pete Mulvihill was kind enough to take the time to answer our questions. www.greenapplebooks.com

OBOFS: Why did you get into this bookstore?

GAB: I was hired in 1993 as a temp to help the bookkeeper out for a few weeks. He then recommended me to the owner as a permanent employee. Then I worked in the receiving
room for a few months, then on the sales floor. Over time, I became a manager, then eventually bought the store—with two partners—from the original owner.

OBOFS: How many people do you employ?

GAB: 28

OBOFS: How has social medial helped the business?

GAB: It’s hard to quantify, but I think it’s pretty significant. We are more entwined, somehow, in the daily lives of our most passionate customers, even ones that live far away or only visit on occasion.

OBOFS: What is different today from when you started out?

GAB: So much, from publisher terms and delivery times to our competition in both used and new books. Sections have moved; items for sale have come and gone (CD-Rom games, audiobooks on cassette, etc.); countless staff members have come and gone; neighboring
businesses have turned over; hundreds of thousands of books have come and gone. It still feels both timeless when you walk in our door and completely fresh, as the books always change.

OBOFS: What do you wish you had known then?

GAB: Nothing, really. Much of the joy of running a small business is constant learning and adaptation.

OBOFS: What should the public know about independent bookstores that they probably don’t?

GAB: That we’re not dead; we’re vibrant. That we re-circulate infinitely more money in the local economy than online companies. That we’re your neighbors, coaches, patrons, and friends—real people who live and work and play and raise kids and eat in the same laces
as our customers.

OBOFS: What plans does the store have for the next year that people should keep an eye out for?

GAB: Small changes, of course, from expanding sections that are selling and contracting slower sections to more partners in our “Café Green Apple” program. I’m most excited about the poetry-dispensing gumball machine one of my staffers is creating (a blatant theft from
U of Chicago). Should be fun—I love being able to say yes to wacky ideas.

OBOFS: How do you handle the “Amazon Showroom” Phenomenon?”

GAB: We don’t really address it. We’re a pretty hands off store, letting people get lost in the nooks and alcoves unless they signal they want help. So we just do our best to be a place people want to come to discover books, see friends, hang out, etc.

OBOFS: What do you offer your community that they and B&N don’t?

GAB: Well, Amazon is easy: real people and real books in a real place with a friendly staff, great neighboring businesses (restaurants, cafes, bars, etc.) and much more, from author events to dust bunnies. As for B&N, we don’t have any around here, so I haven’t been
in one in many years. But my gut is the personal touch—hand-written shelf talkers; a selection that truly reflects the books our community wants (even if they don’t know it yet); a casual, non-corporate place to work; etc.

OBOFS: What are you reading right now that is captivating?

GAB: Junius and Albert’s Adventures in the Confederacy: a Civil War Odyssey by Peter Carlson (coming out soon). It’s a fun romp—two Northern reporters caught by the South during the Civil War. I like this kind of quirky narrative non-fiction. His previous book K Blows Top was a favorite of mine, too.

OBOFS: What impact does the ownership by partners who were staff have on the business?

GAB: I think it does a few things. It prevents a void between owners and staff, as we owners have done everything from trap mice to calling 911 for a dying man, from shelving to receiving. It also means we’re pretty good at running the store, as we’ve been doing it
hands-on for so long. Not that we’re perfect, but we’re pretty aware of our flaws and rely on stronger partners to cover other partners’ weaknesses.

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  1. A Wilmington Institution since 1982
  2. Buying Old Books: The ultimate Recycling
  3. Best African American Literature Selection in Town
  4. Extensive Foreign Language Section: Spanish, French, German, Italian, Chinese
  5. The ONLY bookstore in town to deliver!
  6. Paperback Classics at affordable prices (Great for English classes!)
  7. Incredible Judaica Section
  8. Largest selection of scripts and Theatre/Film books in Town
  9. Where else are you going to find a first edition for under $10?
  10. Bibliophiles rock!