Fog City News is Closing After 22 Years
Fog City News, a downtown San Francisco institution known for its dizzying selection of periodicals and award-winning collection of artisan chocolate bars, is closing.
This independent business at 455 Market St., whichin 2019, will “permanently close on or before Friday, December 31st,” according to an email sent to members today, Nov. 17, 2021. The 900-square-foot shop has been an old-fashioned oasis in a city rapidly being disrupted: A real newsstand, with magazines, newspapers, journals, greeting cards, tchotchkes and chocolates from around the world, staffed by friendly humans who knew and loved the products.
First things first: It’s not a landlord issue. Proprietor Adam Smith’s email states, “Let me be clear: Everything is fine. The store is profitable (only because of YOU!) My health is fine (well, I’m still recovering from that accident, but basically fine). And I’m on good terms with the landlord. I’ve had a lot of time to think about this and I’m clear-eyed. I have nothing but gratitude for these last 22 years.”
Side note: For those not in the know, in an all-too-familiar story, Smith was hit and injured while riding his “Vespa-like vehicle” in the city recently. He writes, “I’m really looking forward to having more time to cook, read, enjoy life in this great city, and fully recover from my accident (physical therapy will be involved).”
To which I say, good for him, and I wish him a full recovery and hope life brings him only more joy. I’ve known Smith since the mid-2000s when my husband first landed a job in the city, and he’s one of the hardest-working businesspeople I’ve ever met. Before we lived there permanently for several years, I’d make a pilgrimage to the shop every time we went as I was walking down Market to the Ferry Building. It was, without a doubt, one of my favorite places in the world.
Smith was there with a smile nearly every time I stopped in, ready to wax poetic about the latest farm-to-bean bar or show off the new letterpress greeting card line he got in. And he always remembered me and asked about what we’d discussed last time I was in.
I also loved the thrill of the hunt there: Every time customers bought a new chocolate bar, staff dutifully wrote the name and date on a small card, and when 10 distinct bars had been purchased, you’d get $5 toward another bar. I filled up a few of those cards; some customers were members of the “century club” with 10 or more full cards. Some tried literally hundreds; Smith stocked more than 200 and rotated the selection.
Another draw was the blind chocolate tastings, which I looked forward to each month. Smith would delicately dole out small chunks of bars and ask customers to let the flavors melt over their tongues and discuss what they were tasting: Cranberry? Hazelnut? Coconut? At the end, he’d proudly unveil the specially selected bars to let us know what we’d tried.
Smith’s emails were another bright spot. They were not dazzlingly formatted or full of tempting photos; rather, the text-heavy tomes contained a fair amount of his personal musings, lengthy lists of members-only specials, details on a vast array of products he decided were worthy of our attention that month, and usually, a groaner of a dad joke or two. Although they broke every rule of promotions, I always brightened when I saw his name in my inbox. How many marketing emails get that response?
When I started my own hyperlocal news site, the Barbary Coast News, Smith was one of my first advertisers and one of my biggest cheerleaders. After it was folded into Hoodline, he continued to support local news — of course he did, because he understood the value of it, and how it’s woven into the thread of a community. He carried news from around the world, and was most passionate about news from his own city and neighborhood.
After I left San Francisco during the first summer of the pandemic, I meant to continue to mail order from Fog City News; I really did. But there is a small window, weather-wise, to send chocolate to Phoenix. I did stop in during a visit in October and was disappointed that Smith wasn’t in, but an employee said his injuries were preventing him from holding his usual hours.
Now, knowing that I probably won’t ever set foot in Fog City News again, it feels like I’m losing way more than just an assortment of reading materials and fun stuff to eat. Certainly Smith will be around, and I’ll keep in touch, and I know he’ll find success and happiness elsewhere. But when a business like Fog City News shuts down, it gouges out a bit of San Francisco’s essence.