“3490 people bought something besides the bestseller” — Talking with Pete Mulvihill of Green Apple Books
May 3rd is California Bookstore Day, and some bookstores in California have giant worms for mascots. Growing up, that’s where I tried to buy as many of those “code-your-own-adventure” QBASIC books (what were those called?) as possible. Years later, home for Christmas, I bought a first edition copy of Gordon Lish’s Mourners at the Door and tried to convince the bookstore owner to care. “Oh yeah, Lish,” he said. Being as this was California, it wasn’t inconceivable to take an “oh yeah” a certain way, so I asked him: “Did you know him?” And he said “Not if I could help it” and walked away.
Other bookstores have coffeeshops above them or below them. Some bookstores are in old firehouses. (Even if they’re not really bookstores). Occasionally, an architectural firm will have an empty storefront, and they will let you put a bookstore in there. Some bookstores are famous, and you have to be quiet going up the stairs to the good room because movie people are asking Lawrence Ferlinghetti about gold-plated avocados. If you’re a new bookstore, it might be beautiful to sell only poetry and run the store with your spouse and your baby. If you’re an old bookstore, Adam Robinson will probably ask you some questions about the kids painting outside. When you’re a mighty bookstore with your own highway attraction sign, you might put another bookstore inside yourself, like Grey Matter Books did with Troubador. Sometimes you will eat a lot of cheese in a bookstore and buy the books that Peter Gizzi tells you to buy, as I have done in Amherst Books. Other times you will be stranded waiting for a ride in some commuter town in New Jersey, so you will spend all your time at a bookstore until it closes, and the owner will get on his motorcycle and kick you out but give you a free Javier Marias novel because he feels bad for you.
Remember when it wasn’t stressful to be in a bookstore? And you weren’t guiltily squaring your desire for the world’s eyes on your own goo with the sheer magnitude of book stuff that already exists? And it just seemed where-am-I-going-to-get-enough-hours-and-light amazing that all these books—in their bound and sentenced way—felt like talking? When I think about California Bookstore Day, I think about giant worms, and I think about that feeling.
One bookstore instrumental in starting and sustaining bookstore culture in all of Sweet Cali is Green Apple Books in San Francisco. If you live in the Bay Area, or you’ve made stopovers on a regular basis, you probably know Green Apple. They’re down there in the Richmond district, their store is huge and full of good surprises—used books, new books, LPs—and they’ve got that sweet green guy out front. Publishers Weekly recently agreed with the book-buying elbow patches in San Francisco and smartly awarded Green Apple Bookstore of the Year.
Green Apple was started in 1967 by a former United Airlines radio technician named Richard Savoy, but now it’s owned by two Kevins—Hunsanger and Ryan—and a Pete: Mulvihill. They are the big dream scheme cookers behind California Bookstore Day, which they want to push to national prominence on par with Record Store Day. They’re active in a ton of San Francisco area stuff—check this lovely listy quote from PW: “founding the San Francisco Locally Owned Merchants Association, participating on the boards of the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association and the Clement Street Merchants Association, and advising Litquake and the San Francisco Library’s One City One Book program”—and sometimes they give you tacos at midnight when Murakami releases a book called 1Q84.
To find out more about what it’s like behind-the-scenes at Green Apple and to shine some hype on Bookstore Day, I asked Green Apple co-owner Pete Mulvihill a few questions, and he was gracious enough to dish some great answers.
Read the interview below the jump!