When Bruce Springsteen sang “Everything dies, baby, that’s a fact / But maybe everything that dies someday comes back,” he surely couldn't have anticipated that his words would one day apply to Kim’s Video.
After a long and extremely strange trip from the East Village to a dusty Sicilian warehouse, the quirky cult-favorite video rental and retail store has returned to New York City. The store reopened in the Lower Manhattan location of Alamo Drafthouse on Thursday night, in a ceremony attended by Kim's founder, Yongman Kim, and Alamo executive Tim League.
Alamo has acquired the back stock of other shuttered video stores for similar projects in other cities, but League told The New York Times this week that acquiring the inventory for Kim’s flagship store, Mondo Kim’s, was “the white whale.” Mondo Kim’s closed in 2009, and the last remaining Kim’s Video locations, on 1st Avenue and 7th Street, shuttered in 2014.
Reopening attendees donned masks bearing film directors' faces as they made their way into the store, located with the theaters on the building's lower level, under a new sign that read Kim’s Video Underground.
Kim, dressed in a crisp blue plaid suit jacket, told attendees about founding the store in 1986. The first location was inside his dry cleaning business at 99 Avenue A. It was, he said with a degree of understatement, “a tough neighborhood” at the time: He had to install more light bulbs to make the outside of the building as bright as possible to protect his employees working late, he added. Kim started to stock films from Korea and Japan, and then Eastern European films “at the suggestion of my new friends in the community,” he said.
The chain “introduced underground independent artists and filmmakers” to a wider audience, Kim said, calling it a key mission. Some of the people who spent time behind his counters went on to become pretty big names themselves, including director Todd Phillips, musician Andrew W.K., Albert Hammond Jr. of The Strokes and Other Music founder Chris Vanderloo.
But as the “business model eventually became obsolete,” Kim started to close his stores. He tried to donate the stores' inventory to various institutions, but ran into a bigger issue in trying to house the Mondo Kim’s collection, which he wanted to keep intact and available to the public.
That desire ultimately led him to send the collection to Salemi, Sicily, where then-mayor Vittorio Sgarbi — a former art critic and member of infamous Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s cabinet — made a grand plan to revitalize tourism with a 24-hour projection operation showing at least ten movies at all times, full access to the collection for current Kim’s members, and an ambitious proposal to convert all the VHS tapes to DVD.
None of that happened; Village Voice reporter Karina Longworth visited Salemi in 2012 and found no museum, or even the seed of one, though locals remembered something called Centro Kim briefly opening, with a gala party attended by the whole town. The town’s former Alderman of Creativity accused Mayor Sgarbi of allowing the videos to molder, saying in an open letter to the Sicilian president that Sgarbi was allowing them to sit in storage “rotting, surrounded by mice.” (Sgarbi’s major achievement as mayor was to open a Museum of the Mafia; and eventually was removed from his position by the Ministry of the Interior in 2012 amid accusations that, on his watch, the Mafia had begun interfering with the town's governance.)
Also on hand at the grand opening was Salemi's current mayor, Domenico Venuti, who spoke briefly before presenting Kim with the Crest of Salemi. League, in turn, presented Venuti with a dedication plaque. With that ceremonial handoff completed, Kim and League opened a bottle of champagne with a sword and declared Kim’s Video officially for business.
Attendees immediately began browsing titles (sample categories: “Nitty Gritty NYC,” “Experimental,” “Roller Skating Classics”) while a brass band played and The Press Room — Alamo’s in-house letterpress print shop and bar — cranked off fresh copies of a Kim’s Video poster. Swag was distributed inside VHS cases bearing an image of Kim himself as a noir-ish detective. “An infamous collection! A mysterious trip to Italy ends! 461 lurid genres! Films you would never get to see are finally BACK IN THE CITY," the taglines on the cases exclaimed.
“Like the collection itself, the journey of Kim’s Video is legendary, and we are thrilled to celebrate its dramatic return to New York City where it belongs," Anne del Castillo, Commissioner of the Mayor's Office of Media and Entertainment, said in a press statement. "With a renowned passion for and commitment to cinema in all its forms — from B-movies to classics, from indies to blockbusters — Alamo Drafthouse Lower Manhattan is the ideal new home for this revered collection of films that has inspired generations of filmmakers and cultural influencers.”
Rentals will be free for 5 days, after which late fees will be applied. A credit card is required to rent, and up to 3 movies at a time will be allowed. VCRs and DVD players are available to rent, as well.