Free Bins

by Green Apple’s Kevin Ryan

Lots of retail stores can boast that they offer items for sale in a broad price range, say from $999 all the way down to $.99. But at Green Apple, we can do better than that, not only because we usually have at least a few rare books priced at $2000 and up, but because our lowest-priced books are free. And the selection is usually pretty good. The Free Box has been a part of Green Apple, and a fixture on Clement Street, since we first opened our doors in 1967. Here’s how it works.

We have the busiest used-book buy counter in the Bay Area. Every day, dozens of folks bring in their boxes and bags of books to sell.  Because we have limited space, we have to keep control of our used book inventory, which means turning down a lot of good books.  Yes, that copy of Madame Bovary is in nice shape, but it’s the third one we’ve seen today. Sorry, but when that Stephen King book came out in paperback, we are no longer able to sell the hardback. Once folks have gone to the trouble of hauling their books in to sell, they’ve often made that emotional break with them, and aren’t interested in lugging the rejects home or around to other stores. And that is where the free box comes in.

The fact is, many books that go into the free box are sellable, just not at Green Apple.  For the entrepreneurial sort, willing to collect the books to try and sell at other stores, or to list on eBay, there is profit to be made. This has occasionally led to conflict.  Over the years, there have been an assortment of characters who seemed to be making a minor living out of our free box.  In the ecosystem of Green Apple, these folks are the bark beetles, breaking down the final remains of the fallen tree and returning the parts back into the cycle. But mostly we consider the free box a community asset. The ideal consumer is the casual passer-by, who spots a book by a favored author, but maybe a bit dog-eared or with a torn cover, and snatches it up.

For more on LARB’s Naked Bookseller program, go here.

I’m stopping by the next time I’m in the Bay!

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