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Fog City News is Closing After 22 Years

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We dare you not to lose yourself in the awesomeness of the magazine racks at Fog City News. Photo credit: Sonja Malik

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., which celebrated 20 years in business in 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, Im still recovering from that accident, but basically fine). And Im on good terms with the landlord. Ive had a lot of time to think about this and Im 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, “Im 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.

Adam Smith welcomes you to Fog City News, where personal customer service is still a thing. Photo credit: Geri Koeppel

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.

Chocoholics, rejoice: Fog City News sells 200 kinds of artisan bars and dozens of bon-bons. Photo credit: Sonja Malik

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.

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Geri Koeppel

Geri Koeppel

Geri Koeppel is a journalist, hedonist, gadfly and gal-about-town. She loves animals, despises hypocrites, and will do almost anything for good pierogis.

4 Comments

  1. Drew
    November 18, 2021 at 10:03 am — Reply

    I did the permits for the SBUX next door ages ago. I watched FCN move in and build up. Whenever I wanted to get sweets for my office I’d raid their amazing selection, and they were also my go-to for birthday cards for the last 22 years. Great business, great people and a great vibe. They will be missed.

  2. bonnie slug
    November 19, 2021 at 10:28 am — Reply

    Adam is also a UCSC alumni, part of the vast network of UCSC grads who are all over SF….

  3. Eric
    November 20, 2021 at 11:40 am — Reply

    I’m floored. Used to love going in to Fog City News to grab the newest quarterly of Wax Poetics. Even after the magazine shut down for a bit (it’s back as a subscription-only edition with old writers taking over ownership) I still would pop in to say hello and browse various magazines. It always felt like the e calm amongst the storm of downtown San Francisco both literally and figuratively. All good things must come to an end though. At least this was the owner’s choice unlike lots of local businesses these days. Kudos to Adam Smith!

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