A Video Legend in the East Village

Today marks the anniversary of the opening of the first Blockbuster store in the country in 1985, in Dallas, Texas.  Filled with childhood nostalgia, we couldn’t help but recall the days when a trip into the local video store to pick out a VHS tape was one of the more exciting moments of any given weekend.   Now we are all used to resources like NetFlix, which come with instant gratification right from the comfort of our couches.   This ease in movie viewing has left many neighborhood video rental stores with no choice but to close their doors.  One such loss hit the East Village especially hard.

an interior shot of the former Kim’s on St. Mark’s Place

Kim’s Video was a neighborhood institution.  According to the Village Voice, “From 1995 until January 2009, a music and movie megastore called Mondo Kim’s took up the bulk of a five-story building at 6 St. Marks Place in the East Village. The top floor was rented out as apartments, and the fourth floor was used by Yongman Kim—the owner of the building and of Mondo Kim’s—as office space. The third floor held what was widely considered to be the best, most diverse video-rental collection in New York City.”  Since 2009 Kim’s has been operating out of a storefront on 1st Avenue and no longer rents movies, just sells them. The heyday of the store, though, was its St. Mark’s days, when it had an almost cult-like following.

What set Kim’s apart both in its rental and post-rental days was the plethora of imported titles, typically not available in the U.S.  A 2008 New York Times article wrote that “Over the years, Mr. Kim, now in his late 40’s, built a staff that traveled the world scouring for additional titles — the only way to find obscure films in the pre-Internet age. By 2008, the collection had swelled to 55,000 eclectic works, many impossible to find anywhere else.” Kim’s also had another location on West 1oth and Bleecker Streets.

Kim’s Video on St. Mark’s Place. Photo on the right shows the store just before closing

With the onslaught of movie-obtaining technologies, though, Kim’s began to suffer a drastic loss in business.  As recounted in the Times article, Kim’s offered a public challenge in 2009.  “In a notice pasted on a wall inside the front door, he wrote, ‘We hope to find a sponsor who can make this collection available to those who have loved Kim’s over the past two decades.’ He promised to donate all the films without charge to anyone who would meet three conditions: Keep the collection intact, continue to update it and make it accessible to Kim’s members and others.”

Mr. Kim’s offer (image courtesy of Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York)

The winner of the challenge was a small town in Italy called Salemi.  An ancient city that boasted being the landing place of Garibaldi, Salemi fell into extreme disrepair after a 1968 earthquake.  In 2009, the city was undergoing an intense arts-based renovation.  East Villagers felt angered by the deportation of the movies, but Mr. Kim said the offer was the only one he received that made sense for the collection.  The plan was that the films would be shown in a 24-hour never-ending film festival, where up to 10 would be projected at once.  Also part of the plan was that the film’s would be digitized and accessible to all of Kim’s members.  Just last month, though, Karina Longworth of the Village Voice took a trip to Selemi, Italy and learned that the movies are doing nothing more than sitting in boxes in a room unknown to  most of the city’s inhabitants.

L: Mayor Vittorio Sgarbi [of Salemi] and Yongman Kim had expansive (if strange) plans.; R: Kim’s Video collection in Salemi. (images courtesy of the Village Voice)

Kim’s is still a legend in the Village and the mysterious saga in Salemi only adds to that alluring, quirky uniqueness.


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