Though her booth by the Ferry Building is decked out in hanging golden diamonds, sparkling tinsel and a string of red “dingle balls,” Courtney Riddle’s modern newsstand — which sells publications by local artists — has been mistaken for a handful of other services in the six months it’s been open.
She said tourists often approach The Grand Newsstand looking for the nearest big bus tour, or commuters will stop by for a chat as they pass by.
“One time a girl came and literally used this as an advice booth,” Courtney said. “She had all these boy problems and was spilling her heart out to me, and I was like, ‘I’m here for you, I’ll help, but I’m just a girl selling zines…’”
Courtney opened up shop in an old-fashioned, dark-green news kiosk on Market St., where she sells a wide variety of zines by local artists — handmade self-published books she described as “super DIY little booklets of magic.”
She said typically, they’re photocopied pieces of paper printed out at Kinkos and stapled together on your living room floor, with Netflix playing in the background. They can be about anything — from art and politics to collections of quirky Wikipedia listicles.
“The cool thing about zines is that there isn’t really much pretense to them,” Courtney said. “You can just put some sheets of paper together, and you have a zine … Spending a day doing that and then having a physical book to show for it is really exhilarating.”It took a full six months for Courtney to convince the city to let her open the stand — a process that involved a lot of bouncing around to different government offices, arguing that selling zines isn’t much different from the stand’s original purpose of selling newspapers.
While the process involved a lot of annoying legwork, Courtney had some interesting encounters along the way.
“The SF Public Works office was pretty ridiculous,” she said. “I was waiting to get my permits, and no one really knew who to make me talk to … So I’m waiting there and a balloon animal artist walks in.
“He had all these balloons, he was squeaking as he was walking in … and he walks up to the counter and he’s just like, ‘Hi yes, um, I’d like to get my permits in order.’
“And on my way out, he gives me a balloon animal flower … Honestly I feel like I live in some sort of weird movie type of thing.”Though she’s always drawn and been an artist, Courtney made her first zine just three years ago for SF Zine Fest.
“I started when my friend Sara was like, ‘SF Zine Fest is coming up. They have applications for a table — we don’t have anything, but let’s make stuff specifically to sell at Zine Fest. That’ll be our deadline,’” Courtney said. “So over the course of 4 months, I’d made five new zines.”
Courtney makes illustrative mini-zines — pen and ink illustrations drawn on blank paper. One of her first zines was a collaborative project with a friend called “Hey Girl, hi!!” — a pocket-sized booklet with sketches of their text conversations.
It includes a functioning recipe for tempura, a nasty text Courtney sent to the thief that stole her friend’s phone and an endless supply of best friend banter.
Other zines are particularly popular with travelers, who often find them to be representative of San Francisco’s artist culture and want to take a piece of the city home with them. An illustrated walking map was helpful to a British man who stopped by the stand on his first night in the city, and many out-of-towners pick up “Wonder and Wander,” a local artist’s personal atlas of San Francisco.
To pick up your own walking map of the city, head to The Grand Newsstand on Market St. at Steuart St., right by the Ferry Building. It’s open from 10-6 on Monday and Wednesday-Saturday. For directions to the stand or ideas on other souvenirs made by local artists, ask your Scout.