The good used bookstore is a civic necessity: You can tell a town or a neighborhood is in decline when such shops start disappearing. The Castro District hasn't been the same since its used shop shut down several years ago. A phantom experience in hyperspace isn't right either. We like to pick up a volume to get its heft, and to check for loose bindings, foxed corners, and the snail trail of ink scrawls and yellow highlighter. Good used bookstores smell of time. Here are a few we hope will never go away.
Green Apple Books
506 Clement (at Sixth Avenue), 387-2272, www.greenapplebooks.com
There's but one obvious choice as the very best used bookstore in San Francisco — the venerable Green Apple. Its green wooden dwarf mascot figuratively towers over the city, just as the store towers over other S.F. shops in size, skillful organization, and variety of offerings. Each of the Clement Street storefront's many rooms has an appropriate apple-themed name (history is “Granny Smith,” for example). Green Apple is to the city what Moe's is to Berkeley or Powell's is to Portland — the used bookstore standard. It wins all the readers' polls, too.
227 Church (at Market), 552-6733
For those seeking a cozier experience, try Aardvark, which is large enough to carry many books yet small enough so that a bookstore cat (the estimable Ace, 15 years old) can comfortably patrol its aisles. Unlike many stores in which the clerks have checked every title online and know just how valuable they really are, you can find some real bargains here.
Bird & Beckett Books & Records
2788 Diamond (at Chenery), 586-3733, www.bird-beckett.com
Bird & Beckett exemplifies the mixed new and used bookstore, with new titles in the front, older titles in the back, and a regular routine of live jazz and other community events. Like the best used stores, it helps anchor its neighborhood — in this case, Glen Park.
866 Valencia (at 19th Street), 824-8203, www.borderlands-books.com
Borderlands gets the nod as best specialty shop, with a large assembly of new and old science fiction, fantasy, and horror titles. It also has an amazing bookstore cat, Ripley, a hairless sphinx who emerges yowling from a door flap and, before long, climbs up on your shoulders, mewing like mad.