BACKGROUND: GREEN APPLE BOOKS
San Francisco's Green Apple Books meanders, turns back on itself, and spills over into even more improbable rooms filled with the scents of fresh ink and paper turning into dust. A motley horde of ethnic masks stare down from walls. Clever handmade signs litter the shelves and ceiling (and anywhere tape can hold for any amount of time), colorful new ones accumulating over faded ones like fallen leaves.
“Everybody who has ever worked here has probably made a contribution that can still be found,” says co-owner Kevin Ryan. “The store is its own being in a funny way, and we’re just taking care of it.”
Ryan and two other long-term employees, Kevin Hunsanger and Pete Mulvihill, became Green Apple’s caretakers in 1999 and outright owners in 2009. Rich Savoy, who opened Green Apple in 1967, came up with an innovative succession plan when he was ready to retire but couldn’t find a buyer for the store. The three employees bought the store gradually over a ten-year period, which avoided the overhead of a loan and allowed Savoy to supervise the transition.
Green Apple’s owners take advantage of their complementary interests to operate the store. Ryan handles new book buying and operations, Hunsanger runs the used and collectible part of the business, and Mulvihill oversees the general management functions like accounting, staffing, and marketing. How do they handle ownership decisions? “We all work here every day, so we just talk to each other,” Ryan says.
In addition to the oddball atmosphere that makes the store a destination, Green Apple makes reacting to customers and keeping things fresh a priority. “I love coming into work everyday,” Ryan says. “It’s always a new store; there are always new books on offer and something to get excited about.”
“I’m totally bullish on the future of the reader,” Ryan adds. “In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, one of the truths of book buying was that people didn’t buy hardback young adult fiction. … Those were published for the library market, and then we’d get the paperback and sell that. The strongest growth in our store is from the kids, young adult, and teen sections. They’re amazing readers. I think it has to do with the writers who are focusing on that group now. You’ve got all these sensational series of books like Harry Potter and Lemony Snicket and the Hunger Games. It seems to me it’s a generation of readers.”
“The one thing Amazon won’t ever be able to offer is a place to go,” he claims. “People still need to get out of the house, they still need to socialize with other people. I think people want bookstores in their community, and I think they’ll continue to support them.”