By Montserrat Tavitas
Green Apple Books & Music has been creating a reader community for 52 years. Pete Mulvihill, co-owner of the bookstore, talked with us about San Franciscan readers, the important interaction that booksellers have with readers and the challenges they face nowadays. Enjoy!
1. How does the community of San Francisco respond to literature and bookstores?
So far, the readers of San Francisco (and beyond) have sustained our store—and many other indie booksellers—through their curiosity, desire for story, and need for an escape from daily life. The steady, vibrant attendance by and engagement from the crowds at our literary events support this theory.
2. How do you think the place where you are located affects the readers’ vision of literature?
That has evolved over the 52 years we’ve been open. As demographics change, hippies give way to techies, and the world speeds up, the type of books we sell has evolved over time, too. There is an obvious liberal bent to much of what we sell, and I suspect we sell more books in translation and international literature than many stores in other locales. The books on our shelves best represent what we think San Franciscans want to read.
3. What is something special about San Francisco readers?
It’s a diverse lot, to be sure. There are kids pawing through board books at one end of the store while an old lady chooses a new mystery at another end of the store. Then there’s everyone in between—poets and artists and business folks and romantics and cooks and athletes. In a metropolitan place like SF, there’s no one thing that all readers share, other than the curiosity that ties most humans together.
4. What kind of audience usually goes to the bookstore? Do you have any strategy to attract people?
As above, we attract a diverse crowd. I think that our bargain books and used books attract a certain crowd, as do our LPs another crowd. We rely mostly on word of mouth and social media to find new customers.
5. What can you learn from the reader audience?
Over time, we try to respond to what readers are buying by offering them similar books. Same with visiting authors. But we also try to keep a steady stream of new and undiscovered books coming so folks can find the next great read.
6. Which are your audience’s favorite books? What can you recommend to readers right now?
We sell lots of books for young readers, lots of literary fiction, plenty of cookbooks. Poetry sells well, too, as do graphic novels. To recommend a book, I’d want to know what the reader has read recently that really grabbed them. Without some info about a reader’s preferences, I’m just shooting in the dark. That conversation is important (and often the best part of our job as booksellers!). I CAN say that the last novel that I read that really stuck with me was The Seas by Samantha Hunt. It’s ethereal and mysterious and salty.
7. What is the greatest challenge for a bookstore nowadays? How do you see its future?
We’re faced by pretty stiff competition by Amazon, of course, though we have some advantages over them, too. Our sales need to increase steadily over time, since our labor costs, rent, health insurance, and everything else get more costly each year. Entrepreneurs are supposed to be optimists, and I SHOULD be positive after the store’s 52 years of survival, but I do live with a bit of fear of the future. But we swallow that fear every morning and look to improve the stores, manage costs, and find new customers to keep the store thriving for years to come.
8. What is special about Green Apple Books?
I think it’s several things. First, like any bookstore, it’s the people—both the smart, kind staff and the curious customers. That interaction is much of the magic of ANY bookstore, Green Apple included. Beyond that, it’s physically an interesting and beautiful space, with nooks and crannies and alcoves to get lost in. The book selection is fantastic, too, broad and deep, but still carefully chosen. And the deep ties we’ve created with various parts of the communities we serve (authors, publishers, schools, etc.) are also part of the store’s goodness.
Visit Green Apple’s website here.
Follow them on Twitter: @GreenAppleBooks