Fog City News, print media haven, closes after 22 years
By James Salazar
Special for examiner
In the sea of towers of the Financial District, Fog City News sits like a gem not to be missed. For 22 years, Adam Smith and his team have been supplying customers with renowned magazines, quirky greeting cards and above all artisanal chocolates from all over the world. By the end of the month, San Franciscans will have to find their solutions elsewhere, as the store will close for good on New Year’s Eve.
Unlike other retailers that have gone out of business over the past year and a half, Fog City News’ closure is not related to rent increases or challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, Smith hit a natural stopping point in her career.
“I don’t feel like there’s anything else I feel the need to try and accomplish with this store. Twenty-two years is a really long time in the business retail, really. I’m in awe of these places around town that have been around for 50, 60, 70 years. It’s awesome. I just don’t think it’s in my blood to continue just for the sake of it. ‘go,’ Smith said.
Prior to opening Fog City News, Smith spent several years in restaurant management, his work taking him to New York, Los Angeles and then San Francisco. Although he dealt with customer service, Smith did not see the food industry as an ideal candidate.
“I stumbled across a store on the Fillmore called Juicy News, and started working for them,” Smith said. “I started to really look around downtown San Francisco and felt there was an opportunity for an international newsstand that had the kind of reach that San Francisco deserved.”
This is how Fog City News was created.
Carrying more than 1,200 magazines, Smith’s store has been voted “Best Newsstand” in its first year of business and 21 consecutive years by local publications such as the San Francisco Chronicle and SF Weekly.
The layout of Fog City News at 455 Market Street has remained virtually unchanged since 1999. For years, customers walked on 920 square feet of carpet to peruse the magazines that dotted the yellow walls of the store. In addition to print media, there was space on the shelves for novelties such as music boxes, replicas of a Golden Gate Bridge rivet and a solar-powered Thomas Edison figurine with working light bulb.
While Smith and his employees are known as chocolate connoisseurs, these treats weren’t always part of the store’s offerings. Originally, Smith’s candies of choice were Pop Rocks, gumdrops, and other standard candy bars. However, customers who bought European magazines asked Smith when he was going to start selling “real” chocolate and a home-made inventory overhaul ensued.
Fog City News was carrying over 200 chocolate bars, and each bar had to be unanimously approved by staff to be displayed on store shelves. Upon entering the store, customers were asked if they would like to taste some chocolate. Their purchases earned them Chocolate Passports, punch cards that allowed customers to get $5 off their next treat after buying 10 separate bars. Smith shared that 26 customers are part of the “Century Club,” with 10 or more full cards, and three customers have achieved “Triple Century Club” status.
For many long-time customers, Fog City News was a routine pit stop on their commute.
“It was a great place to get cards because I work a few blocks from here, so I always knew I could find irreverent, fun cards for any occasion and for the people that it’s hard to find cards. I also like the chocolate selection,” said Katie Murphy, who has attended Fog City News for the past 18 years.
Smith’s selection of more than 1,000 cards – including at least 100 containing a swear word – has also made Fog City News one of San Francisco’s largest independent card shops.
“It was definitely a first experience when it comes to combining amazing cards, an amazing magazine collection, and really good, super premium chocolate,” Murphy added. “I had never seen anything like it. There are international newsstands in New York, but usually they are just magazines.
While many businesses have closed during the pandemic, Fog City News has stayed afloat, thanks to a steady stream of mail order orders from dedicated customers. Even as Market Street reflected a ghost town, customers lined up outside the store to pick up and place orders behind a plexiglass window.
For customers like Murphy, her relationship with employees has kept her coming back to the store. “I always look forward to seeing Adam and the staff and saying hello and feeling like I have a real connection here,” Murphy said. “It’s just not a store. It’s somewhere where they know me, and it’s really great.
Reader polls, such as that conducted by 48Hills in 2019, voted Smith’s team as the “best staff in the store”.
Smith said there are members of his dedicated magazine clientele who “over the past few weeks have come in worried, I mean, really worried about where they’re going to buy magazines now. And I told them all, ‘Don’t worry. I’m working on that,” Smith said. “There are a few stores that I am lining up to hopefully bring us a similar selection. And that will be announced in the coming weeks.
As the Fog City News chapter of his life comes to an end, Smith looks back fondly. “So many memories, so many great customers. Ultimately, for any retail business, any restaurant or any bar, it comes down to the people who work there and the people who are the customers. That’s what creates the community of this company.