Mags and snacks from coast to coast
Using the power of Instagram DM, I sent over a message to co-founder Ken Miller to hear about why they are situating their mini shops within other properties (like a barber shop in San Francisco and a coffee shop in New York), and how they came to sell a combination of magazines and snacks from around the world on both coasts of the U.S.
Dan R: You once quoted that Import News is “somewhere between an Italian train station café, a Japanese 7-Eleven, and a New York newsstand”. That's quite a specific combination; where did the idea to launch a shop like this come from?
Ken M: The original inspiration for Import News came while we were on a trip. Everything is exciting when you are traveling, even the snacks at a corner store. We wanted to create an environment that was approachable—a comfortable space where you might stop by while on a walk around the neighborhood—and which also recreated the openness to new things and sense of discovery that we have when we travel.
DR: Were you and Sasha involved in magazines before starting Import News?
KM: Yes, though in different forms. Sasha [Laing, co-founder] writes fiction and has contributed to prominent literary journals in the US and Europe. (She actually has a story being published in Italy this month)
I was the longtime editor of Tokion magazine, which was a prominent indie publication in the US and Japan in the early 2000s. I've also done some smaller indie magazines—one called IN and one called Anathema—written a bunch of books for Rizzoli, wrote a regular feature for the digital edition of T: The New York Times Style magazine, contributed to Business of Fashion, co-edited a magazine for Edition Hotels and guest edited magazines in the US and Japan. So yeah, we’re pretty deep in the community!
DR: I love that each Import Press is housed within another location. Was this always the plan?
KM: We like working with partners. It makes the space more organic and gives each location a unique identity.
DR: How do you manage and curate magazines between your different locations on both coasts of the U.S.? Do you offer the same selection in each one?
KM: We start with the same basic selection but from there it becomes quite organic. It’s really interesting to see what people gravitate towards in each city—it’s not always what you would expect!
We work directly with a lot of magazines, especially smaller and newer publications, as well magazines published in countries that don’t have strong independent distribution networks. But we work with some distributors as well. We’ve built good relationships with some European distributors, which is great because there is such an incredible community of publishers there.
DR: Alongside the magazines, you sell snacks from around the world. How did that come about?
KM: That was always part of the idea! We like the idea of browsing and sampling—experiencing discovery as a physical interaction in a way that’s not possible through an internet search. We also love to nerd out on packaging design.
DR: It looks like you have a fourth location opening soon, this time in a record shop. How's that going?
KM: We open this month! It's actually a live music venue called Public Records with a vegan café and bar.
DR: Finally, what are your favourite magazines and snacks at the moment?
KM: Oof, this changes constantly! We just started a list and once it hit 20 magazines, we realized it’s too many to mention just a few. We are fortunate to be in the midst of a boom in incredible independent publications.
As for favorite snacks, again there are a few… We’ve been fortunate to support a lot of ‘newer’ brands like Hey Yum!, Casa Bosques chocolate, Bjorn Qorn, Rusty’s Chips, Carifrutas and Amazi Foods. And we carry some pineapple flavored botan ame from Japan that are just insanely good.