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Richard Savoy founded Green Apple Books in 1967. He was 25 years old, had done a tour in the Army and worked as a radio technician for United Airlines, but he had little business experience. With a deep love of the written word, some savings, and a credit union loan, he got a lease in a pre-1906 Richmond district building near the corner of Clement Street and Sixth Avenue, next door to a shoe repair business. The day he opened he logged $3.42 in receipts. His stock of used books, comics, and National Geographic magazines attracted a following in the neighborhood, one that continued to grow over the next 42 years.
Today, the shop covers about 10 times its original 750 square feet and is perennially voted the best used and/or independent bookstore in the Bay Area by readers of the San Francisco Bay Guardian, the SF Weekly, and various other papers, magazines, websites, etc. Over the years, as space became available, the store expanded, gradually doubling its width, adding a mezzanine and a second floor, and increasing the inventory of new books. In 1996, two storefronts became available a few doors down the street and, as always, Savoy seized the opportunity for more space. The store’s selling space went from 5,000 to its current 8,000 square feet, allowing the book selection to expand. He also acquired Revolver Records, a neighbor for twenty years, thus adding new and used music to the mix. A few years later, Green Apple further diversified their inventory to include a huge DVD selection.
The balance between new and used books has been fluid throughout the store’s history; Green Apple strives to adjust to an ever-changing marketplace by varying its product mix, section sizes, etc. without ever losing focus on what makes it a great bookstore: an xcellent selection of quality books in all subject areas.
The store’s interior hasn’t changed much over time. The gas light fixtures are still visible on the second floor. The stairs still creak and the dust fights back against weekly cleanings. The store’s exterior got a face lift in 2001, with a paint job, more energy-efficient lighting, and a new storefront mural featuring the likes of Dashiell Hammett, Mother Goose, and an alien holding a copy of To Serve Man.
The biggest recent change at Green Apple is largely invisible. After years of hunting for a successor, Mr. Savoy assembled a team of three long-time employees to buy the business. Their gradual buy-out, which was completed in August of 2009, is a model of succession planning—it enabled Mr. Savoy to monitor the store’s success and allowed the new owners plenty of time to learn from their mentor. It also spread the cost of buying the store and its huge inventory over ten years. The "new" owners, Kevin Hunsanger, Kevin Ryan, and Pete Mulvihill, absorbed all they could from Mr. Savoy to keep the store successful.
Photo by Clark Allen
Since then, the store has continued to adapt and thrive.
photo by Robin Allen
Kevin Hunsanger, Kevin Ryan, Mergatroid, and Pete Mulvihill