By Ken StoneJust as planting season blooms, San Diegans on Thursday were hit with the latest bad media news: San Diego Home/Garden Lifestyles magazine is closing after 41 years.
The magazine said in a website note posted by “SDHGL Staff”: “The April issue was our last. And, sadly we will no longer be continuing our website or social platforms.”
Email and social media messages from the “team” — which redesigned the magazine in 2018 — thanked editors, art directors, writers, photographers and others for “for sticking with us, championing our efforts, contributing your talents and being part of the stories we so passionately told.”
Owner Mark McKinnon on Thursday said he had to lay off nine full-time employees, including a couple with him more than 20 years. The magazine printed 25,000 copies a month, and had 10,000 paid subscribers (and 9,000 copies in waiting rooms of doctors, hospitals and other offices). It was sold at 325 locations.
“We’re going to circle back after everything clears,” he told Times of San Diego in a phone interview. But if the pandemic lasts another four months, “we’re going to look at it and … possibly come back. It could be a different format. … could be more digital.”
McKinnon, a 51-year-old Carmel Valley resident, said he didn’t want to give anybody false hopes.
But he said: “Something will come of it. If it’s not me, who knows? Maybe somebody else will want to take over the brand. We put out a great product and we have a great reputation in the community.”
The decision has been in the works for years, he said, starting with the 2008 crash and how one can search online for “plant tomatoes” or “white kitchen with island.”
“Google that and a thousand images come up,” he said. “In the past, people would wait for our magazine.”
News of the shutdown came three days after San Diego Magazine announced it was letting staff go and closing after 72 years — but hoped to return after the coronavirus crisis abates.
The crisis was the last straw for McKinnon as well.
“We had advertisers jumping ship,” he said. “I had to make a tough call.” And the closing, even if temporary, of San Diego Magazine “solidified” his decision.
“It really was a surprise to me,” said McKinnon, whose father, Mike McKinnon, originally partnered with home and garden show operator Lawrence Bame, the original publisher, in 1993, buying him out in 2006. “[San Diego Magazine publisher] Jim Fitzpatrick did a great job over there.”
Ron Donoho, a former editor of both San Diego Magazine and Home/Garden Lifestyles, said via email: “It’s a sad state of affairs and I feel the two magazine closures personally. I hope San Diego Magazine does make it back and I hope there are no more shoes ready to drop among other local media outlets.”
He said one intriguing aspect of two local media institutions shutting down the same week is that in their heydays they were competitors for much of the same ad dollars.
“I recall that both publishers would have liked to have bought the other out in healthier days,” said Donoho, who also went on to be editor at San Diego CityBeat. “That obviously never happened — but maybe there is now one niche available to consumers of both brands.”
On Facebook, retired attorney and law professor Helen Rowe Allen posted: “SD our sky is falling down.”
In a brief phone chat, she confirmed that her Mission Hills home was to be featured in the magazine later this year. The publication “always embraced Mission Hills,” said Allen, 80, a one-time Republican candidate for Assembly in the 78th District who launched health and fitness businesses and still owns Pro Fitness downtown.
Allen, who has lived in the region since the 1950s, said she long relied on the magazine for ideas, a “mainstay”
“I took the good looks of my own home seriously,” she said “So I’ve always looked at that magazine as my go-to. … It was regional, it was pertinent” with the interiors “amusing” and sometimes “even outrageous. I embraced all of that.”
The home and garden publication was led by editor Wendy Generes.
McKinnon — whose family also owns KUSI — is publisher of San Diego Home/Garden Lifestyles, with McKinnon Publishing a sister company of McKinnon Broadcasting, which operates the independent TV station. (The magazine was based in the same Kearny Mesa building.)
KUSI also promoted the magazine’s content, such as these pieces on “Good Morning, San Diego”:
Affordable finds for your home and close. San Diego Home/Garden Lifestyles (@SDHomeGarden) Magazine editor Wendy Generes and Jenna Pilant from "Room Bloom" explain what you need to know. pic.twitter.com/nlyrdX19KS
— KUSI Good Morning San Diego (@KUSI_GMSD) October 4, 2018
The irony of the Home/Garden shutdown, McKinnon said, is the magazine never looked better.
He hailed his “amazing editorial department. I really did have a great editor, Wendy Generes…. She really rallied and saw the vision.”
In a couple of months, McKinnon said, “once this all blows through, we’ll re-evaluate and see if it’s worth picking up the pieces of partnering with somebody and letting them take over our brand but still have some type of finger in it.”
Updated at 2:09 p.m. March 26, 2020
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