An Ode to Green Apple Books’ Lost Annex

It's probably the closest thing to Hogwarts you’ll experience in SF

Hidden away among San Francisco’s Victorians of the foggy Inner Richmond district, the veteran bookstore seems delightfully bewitched. Staircases go every which way; rooms appear out of thin air; hidden depths and archives unfold before your very eyes. 

Ever-expanding, it’s a place of endless wonder. 

For many years, a bonus storefront — the Annex — was squeezed, almost invisibly, between two other shops along the sidewalk. Blink, and you could miss it: a treasure trove of magazines, graphic novels, and stacks and stacks of genre paperbacks. 

While the main store always felt like the main event, the Annex held a special place: a tucked-away spot for the especially perceptive, a Room of Requirement for those seeking niche, particular interests.  

But then, in a historic (and well-considered) move, the owners announced that they would be closing the Annex for good — a corrective maneuver to “right-size” the store after it had expanded in 1996 to compete with those big box superstores. A vestigial addition that’s no longer needed.  

And since September of 2021, it’s been an empty, hollowed-out storefront.  

To go back a bit in time, you’ll see that the Annex contained unique magic all its own. You enter through a nondescript doorway lined with green crates, stuffed with crack-spined paperbacks. Magazines and best-sellers, pulp re-issues and discount books greet you on the way in.

Just past the register, vibrant hues of graphic novels glow like gems. Ahead of you, tall shelves stretch to the ceiling, packed with the overflow of new and used fiction that one store simply can’t contain on its own. 

A path between them loops all the way around — but before you land there, yet another sneaky entrance appears to your left: a cool, narrow walkway of vinyl and more periodicals. As you descend further, it gets darker, as the architecture shifts into a chamber of paperback curiosities:  fantasy, sci-fi, mystery, horror. 

Continuing through the cement-floor catacomb, you find something hiding at the very end, a touch that Green Apple does so well: a solitary chair in the darkness — a quiet sensory deprivation chamber, safe from the outside world. A place of peace and contemplation.

This feels like the end of the line, but who knows? Another strange room could open up at any moment if you linger long enough. But for now, you quietly sit. 

When you do finally trace your steps back, all the way to the light of the entryway door, yet another room appears out of thin air. But this one is a collage of calendars, art prints, and stationary. Was this room always here?

And when you do finally leave the shop, it’s for the last time. The Annex, as of writing this in September of 2022, is still hauntingly vacant.

Its dissolvement had come on the heels of turbulent times, strange days, and immeasurable loss. It felt like yet another blow, another precious piece of local magic lost to history.

And yet, to walk through Green Apple’s main store now, you’d find quite the contrary. Strange. Things must have shifted overnight. 

Walking through the colorful, wooded book displays, an island of vinyl records emerges—right between the staff pics and cookbooks.

Around the corner, past the bargain books and t-shirts, a gem-like nook of graphic novels settles in by a short staircase, right under the kids’ section. 

Up a few flights of stairs, through a narrow walkway, up a step or two, and another room appears. New and used fiction from the Annex’s catacombs—mystery, fantasy, sci-fi, horror, and all—shuffle right into place, magically appearing in a peaceful, well-lit attic. Old wooden chairs sit in quiet nooks, waiting for the next patron to seek refuge. 

Everything lost is miraculously found.

The Annex isn’t truly gone; it’s only reformed. The store simply reclaimed it as its own. 

And so, Green Apple carries on in San Francisco. Much like the Richmond itself, it remains a colorful, ever-shifting, expanding place—hiding in plain sight, tucked away amongst the fog.

Feature Image: Courtesy of Twitter via @GreenAppleBooks

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