This is the second in a series of short articles on independent San Francisco bookstores. While their numbers are dwindling, there are still many colorful, one-of-a-kind bookstores in various colorful, one-of-a-kind San Francisco neighborhoods.
In Manhattan, there is the Strand and its many “miles of books.” In Portland, Oregon, there is Powell’s City of Books, quite likely the largest new and used bookstore in the US. In San Francisco, if you want the biggest and most smartly culled selection of new and old reading material, it is Green Apple Books. The dusty, old bookstore resides in the main retail district of “the Richmond,” a mostly Chinese neighborhood on Clement near Sixth Avenue.
When you enter the store, having passed by overstuffed “bargain book” bins on the sidewalk, you’ll find new books — best sellers to be sure, but also an eclectic collection of books mainstream readers might find obscure. There are also a significant number of low-priced, high-quality remainders collected by a staff who understands both value and good writing. Beyond this room are stairways — one that leads up a half a story to an area filled with books and a second, book-laden stairway that climbs up to a series of large rooms with creaky wood floors where shelves are filled with thousands of carefully selected used books ranging from photography to philosophy.
If you turn right when you leave the store — if you can tear yourself away — you’ll find another Green Apple two storefronts away. This one has a film lover’s collection of DVDs; jazz, blues and rock CDs; just about any recent magazine you can imagine, as well as great collections of new and used mystery and science fiction novels — including classic pulp.
Every serious San Francisco reader is aware of Green Apple and its resources. But you not only visit the bookstore, you visit the neighborhood, a destination if you like Chinese food markets, restaurants, and bakeries. Busy Clement Street is also full of surprises — sea creatures for your aquarium, a huge hardware full of inexpensive china from China, foot massage parlors and nightclubs interspersed with Irish bars and Russian delis. Have sushi, buy orchids, pick up some chicken feet.
And when you are ready to go home, check out the bookstore again — see if you missed anything. They keep late hours.