Goodbye Kims: a store, along with an era, closes its doors...
On Martin Luther King Jr. Day of this week, I headed over to the East Village to run some basic errands: Auggies Blend coffee, rain scented glycerin soap, and I wanted to get one last look at Mondo Kim's on St. Marks Place before they shuttered their doors. To the uninitiated, Mondo Kim's represented a vast selection of esoteric movies and music, and at its peak, operated four floors of the building on St. Marks Place for its retail and rental operations. The top floor was a film fanatic's wet dream of hard-to-find films on VHS and DVD for rent. If there was a film that you couldn't get on Netflix or at your local video shop, Kims was likely to have it in their collection... if not on DVD then surely on VHS. As an example, my most recent rental there was a hitman noir film called "The Outside Man" from 1972 starring Roy Scheider and Ann Margaret. Apparently the film is not available on DVD and is out of print on VHS, but sure enough, Kims came through for me and thus was able to watch a movie I would otherwise have been unable to find. I remember about a year ago having a sudden "burning" curiosity to see the cheesy kids-getting-hacked-in-the-woods movie "The Burning" (starring Jason Alexander!) and it was only available, at that time, on a bootleg VHS at Kims. Of course, now you can see "The Burning" in all its tacky badness on DVD, but in that moment, speaking as someone who was hungry for some early '80s horror schlock, it was a godsend having Kims as a last resort for digging up some obscure or out-of-print films.
And so it is a sign of the times that Kims has had to close its flagship store on St. Marks. I think it's due both to increasing rental costs and decreasing demand for traditional video rentals - everyone uses Netflix these days, including me! The whole business model for media delivery is in a state of flux, something of which I've had my own hand in professionally, and hopefully media will get easier and easier to access in the months and years going forward. For Kims, however, this meant giving up that huge rental collection, so they ended up donating it to some film institution in Sicily. Now instead of rentals, they opened up a small retail outfit on First Avenue to continue selling obscure cult classic DVD's and foreign films. But losing that amazing movie rental collection is a hard blow to the dedicated cinéaste in NYC.
Anyway, back to my Monday adventure, in which I dropped by Kims only to find that the place was in the process of being emptied out. I tentatively entered, to which a distinguished Asian gentlemen said, "Sorry, we are closed." I asked him if I could take some pictures of the store and he gave me permission to do so. It then occurred to me as I was going about my photo-snapping that maybe this Asian gent was none other than Kim himself, who, back in the day, founded the minor rental store that ended up growing into a film-buff's treasure trove. I approached him and asked, "Excuse me, are you, um, THE Kim?" And he lets out a shy laugh and says yes he is Kim. I gushingly profess my fanship to his store, saying how sorry I am to see it closing and what a pleasure it was to meet the man behind this important and significant collection of films to which he replies, "You like drama, eh?" I quickly explain, "Yeah that's why I was such a good customer for all those years. I love drama and movies!" He didn't mind me taking pictures of the store as it was getting cleared out, but he didn't want me to take any pictures of him. On the whole, he was extremely nonchalant and un-sentimental about the whole thing which, I suppose, isn't too surprising... for him it was just a business venture. Still, to have been given a chance to document some of the last moments of Mondo Kim's was a privilege for sure - it's no time soon that I will be forgetting the myriad of film delights I've unearthed in that building during my tenure as a denizen of this city.
Thank you Kim! Your Mondo shop will sorely be missed!