Destination: The other Apple Store

[Eric Heiman] Section III, Item 45. 1.34 of the Official Graphic Designer’s Code of Ethical and Fashionable Behavior says very explicitly, “All those engaged in the practice and craft of said ‘Graphic Design’ field, must unequivocally display unabashed love for all touch-screen products released by said company ‘Apple Computer,’ and agree to commit at least 1% of annual work hours towards evangelization of said products and associated features. Any part of said evangelizing that involves the celebration or use of ‘old media,’ i.e. print (if unsure of definition of said ‘print,’ please refer to Section III, Item 47.3.54), is strictly forbidden.”

Relax! No such code exists! (Yet.) But in the wake of all this mania around the best way to bathe in the electron glow of our iPhones and iPads, making a field trip to a — gasp! — book store is starting to carry the same negative stigma as using the Remedy typeface or calling Milton Glaser a hack. On my plane ride home from the holidays, an iPad user sitting next to me was shocked I would travel with — gasp! — physical books anymore. (My reply was something along the lines of, “Because I just want to read, as opposed to playing digital Solitaire as you are doing, my annoying friend.” But that’s another story….)

Call me a digital immigrant if you must. Call me an illegal digital immigrant, even, since I don’t (for shame!) own an iPad yet. (Labeling me a Luddite, though, would be crass and untrue. I’m writing this on my MacBook Pro and just used my iPhone to text my wife on her iPhone that I would be working late to finish this article.) But I would rather spend a half day at Green Apple Books than 15 minutes in any Apple Store — physical or virtual. There. I said it. Shopping for a new iPhone case just doesn’t do it for me, folks! And no, I don’t need any help, overly smiley Apple employee! Visits to Green Apple, though, just never get old. It’s the joy in having no other purpose than getting lost in the endless corridors of weathered books, letting the spines and covers be my guides.

Green Apple is sandwiched between the Chinese markets and ethnic restaurants along Clement Street in San Francisco’s Inner Richmond district. So many books crowd the shelves of its two floors that the store must house its fiction, periodicals and film/music paraphernalia in an annex two doors down. The aisles are narrow, the worn wooden shelves squeezed for every cubic inch to accommodate the always-changing selection. When all remaining storage air pockets have been displaced, the overstock flows onto floor-stacked piles.

Another member of the SSPL (Secret Society of Print Lovers), Bob Aufuldish, joined me for the this particular Green Apple Trip. Here’s what we found:

First, if you’re willing to part with books that have been lying idle on your own shelves and bring them to Green Apple, you can build up some credit to be used for future purchases. I haven’t actually spent real money at Green Apple in a long time. Are you really going to read Moby Dick again? (Once was enough for me.) You say you actually read that Seamus Heaney translation of Beowulf? (Liar.) It’s all Green Apple play money if you put sentimentality aside, not to mention great for managing the shelves at home or work — something needs to go out if you’re going to bring something new in.

Not quite the comparison I would make (“Better than a Fruit Stripe-colored zebra” is more my speed), but I, too, share Dave Eggers’ enthusiasm for the store.

Refreshingly, there isn’t a piece of information or signage in the whole place that isn’t carefully crafted by hand. Yes, that map of the store is hand-drawn and hand-lettered.

This is by far my favorite anti-shoplifting piece of visual communication I’ve seen in a long while. So stern! And yet so human….

This is why Bob’s wife loves him: He’s a huge photography book fan, but couldn’t be bothered with the Lee Friedlander book of nudes with the racy cover.

Speaking of photography books, here is where the most damage happens (at least for Bob). Bob also possesses the precious “bookstore eagle eye” gift, and manages to scoop up a limited edition-Jim Goldberg gem, Open See, before I even put my camera down. Alas, there is only one copy. That’s what I get for taking photographs, then browsing.

Since he was the book’s designer, Bob is a little disappointed to see this copy of David Maisel’s Library of Dust remaindered and in such bad shape. I actually think the wear and tear is a beautiful accident considering the content, which are photographs of weathered containers saved from a basement flood at a mental hospital — containers that hold the remains of deceased patients from decades ago, who either had no known relatives or whose relatives didn’t want to claim them. Downstairs in the Art section, we find a book I designed over six years ago — half price and still in its shrink wrapping?! OK, Bob, I think we’re even….

Finally, the secret graphic lexicon of the typestache is revealed to all!

All this discussion around new and old media probably warrants a visit to the History and Philosophy section, specifically the work of Marshall McLuhan. While Marshall’s decades-old theories have stood the test of time, I’m not so sure about the David Carson cover designs.

Time to check out. The staff is not shy — quite friendly and helpful, actually — so don’t let the photo fool you. They are actually contemplating the very long line at the cash register. Yes, there are still long lines at bookstores! Who knew?

You thought we were done? Silly rabbit. We still have the Annex to explore!

The fiction section makes any literature lover weep with word-clogged elation — and this wall is just the A through F part. And if you don’t find the book you’re looking for, try back in a few weeks, or buy a new copy. Trust me, they’ll probably have it.

If you were suspecting that I have some geeky, fan-boy tendencies, well, you suspected right. Must—not—buy—any—more—LPs—too late.

And just when we thought we were finally done. My back and bicycle could in no way bear the weight of even one additional Signet paperback…. Behold! One last find in the dollar bin! The DJ Spooky/Rhythm Science book for 96% off? Sold to the man with no hair.

Now, really, wasn’t this visit to the other Apple store joyous? Are you not jealous of my rich spoils? Art and Experience by John Dewey, On Beauty by Zadie Smith, Designing Media by Bill Moggridge, Thinking Print MoMa exhibit catalog and part 2 of The Bruce Conner Story! On the LP front, the soundtrack to the 80s French classic Diva, and XTC’s Beatles-drenched Oranges and Lemons! Hopefully some of you reading this were alive when either of these albums were first released. Hopefully some of you are still reading this post. Or just reading. Period. The End.

Eric Heiman is principal and cofounder (with Adam Brodsley) of the multidisciplinary design agency Volume Inc. Volume’s work has been extensively exhibited, honored and published around the world, and Eric’s writing on design has been featured in Eye, Emigre and the AIGA’s online journal, Voice. Eric is also a professor of design at the California College of the Arts, and has been occasionally sighted spinning old-school hip hop at parties and music venues around the Bay Area.

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Comments (9)

  1. Posted by Allyson on 02.4.11 at 10:49 am

    I’m in love! I’ll take any excuse to visit this “apple” location. (Especially if Eric is the tour guide!)

  2. Posted by Lee Moody on 02.4.11 at 11:45 am

    I could putter around those shelves till the snow melts…..easily !!!

  3. Posted by A Kuhntributor on 02.4.11 at 1:05 pm

    As someone who has shopped and browsed at Green Apple for decades, I wish to go on record as saying that Eric has captured it perfectly! And don’t let the shop’s overflowing-ness fool you — the used book buyers are über-discerning about what they accept. Last week, the chap assessing my bagful declined everything except a set of 8 charming locally-printed pamphlets about children’s games circa 1960, netting me $6 added on to my existing $24 credit.

  4. Posted by Alex Capasso on 02.4.11 at 3:16 pm

    Some of my earliest and fondest childhood memories are of browsing Green Apple’s book caverns. And as an adult, when I moved to my current apartment, I chose to move in due partly to its proximity to Green Apple.

    Well written, Eric. I loved this tribute!

  5. Posted by Josh Chen on 02.4.11 at 3:52 pm

    Once again, a brilliantly-written narrative by Eric. Kudos sir. I think it’s time for me to make the trek down there again.

  6. Posted by Lee Friedman on 02.4.11 at 6:37 pm

    Great story, Eric. I regularly prowl the photography sections at Dog Earred (Mission) and Phoenix (Noe Valley), but haven’t visited Green Apple in quite a while. Now I know where I’ll be on Saturday.

  7. Posted by Samantha on 02.5.11 at 7:43 pm

    Wonderful place that I look forward to visiting now when I return to the west.

    If you’re ever in michigan, I suggest checking out Kings Used Book Store its near the greyhound station in Detroit conveniently. Three levels and a basement full of used books and collectors editions can be found there as well. In fact these two stores look very simular, even down to their maps.

  8. Posted by Paperlover on 02.7.11 at 12:16 pm

    Wow, this fits right up there with my other favorites: Powell’s in Portland, the Strand in NYC, and Foyles in London. Great post, Eric!

  9. Posted by kevin @ green apple books on 02.10.11 at 3:37 pm


    As one of the owners of Green Apple Books and Music, I was thrilled to discover this article and thrilled to discover your website; thank you so much for the attention!

    Like many of the others who have left comments here, I feel that you have captured the spirit of the store beautifully, and I can tell that you are someone who knows a thing or two about a thing or two. . .

    Thanks again for your interest and support, it makes all the difference – kudos!

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