San Francisco’s Green Apple Books was founded by Richard Savoy in 1967. He expanded the store into its current three buildings and 8,000 square feet and gradually sold it to current owners Kevin Hunsanger, Pete Mulvihill, and Kevin Ryan. Green Apple won Publishers Weekly’s Bookstore of the Year in 2014; that same year, they also opened their second store, Green Apple Books on the Park. We spoke with co-owner Mulvihill about Green Apple’s many virtues—occasional offerings of free beer; a lively, packed events schedule; and its mascot, Mergatroid.
How would you describe Green Apple Books to the uninitiated?
Green Apple is a rambling maze of a store with the many levels and nooks and crannies packed with new and used books in all subject areas. It has that bookstore smell. Give yourself plenty of time, and let yourself get lost.
If Green Apple were a religion, what would be its icons and tenets?
Well, the leaders of the religion have some maxims like “bad books hide good books” (a reminder to keep our inventory dynamic in both used and new books; remove the books that aren’t selling to highlight those that need more attention or have better potential) and “we’re not here to break even.” Green Apple’s followers would say “So Many Books, So Little Time.” Our mascot, Mergatroid, is our icon. He holds an apple (representing Adam and Eve’s choice of knowledge over paradise) and a book, and he sports a devilish smile.
Which was your favorite event and why?
California Bookstore Day in May 2014 was probably the most fun-filled event in my 22 years at Green Apple: the long line at the door before opening, the kids making stories with 826 Valencia, Dave Eggers giving relationship advice, free beer, live music, unique books, fantastic authors like Mary Roach and Novella Carpenter. Just a full-blown celebration of all things bookish.
What trends are you noticing among young readers?
I most notice what my 9-year-old twins are into. My daughter, and many like her, is really digging graphic novels like El Deafo, Rollergirl, and anything by Raina Telgemeier. My son is into series, like Artemis Fowl and Percy Jackson. Beyond that, mostly it’s that I never see a young reader reading on a screen in our community. That gives us hope.
What are some of your top current handsells?
In fiction, I’m always pushing the Tenth of December by George Saunders. Never has a book of short stories so stuck with me, and no reader ever comes back disappointed. In nonfiction, Barbarian Days by William Finnegan appeals to many of my neighbors, folks with a bad case of the travel/surf bug. So few writers can convincingly describe waves and surfing. And I can’t wait for Lab Girl by Hope Jahren to come out this summer; it’ll probably sell itself, but I’m already passing my galley around to anyone willing to read it. Such a nuanced, charming, funny, and inspiring memoir.
What is your ideal busman’s holiday?
I like used bookshops outside of big cities—that’s where one stumbles on the unexpected, which is harder in new bookstores. I had a ball in Wichita last summer with some American Booksellers Association colleagues at a quirky, smoky used bookstore with an opinionated proprietor. So maybe a road trip in California Gold Country with a list of used bookstores.Karen Schechner is the senior Indie editor.