Farewell, Mondo Kim’s

Several of my friends have cozily settled into the Netflix routine, while others download movies from the Internet. Me, I’m still taking the subway to rent DVDS and (gasp) VHS from a “brick and mortar” establishment, one that’s going out of business in January 2009.

Mondo Kim’s, the leading “alternative” retailer in Manhattan, is my destination of choice. The store on St. Mark’s Place in Greenwich Village, the cornerstone of the small Kim’s franchise, has had the broadest selection of rental titles in the five boroughs of NYC for nearly two decades (by the store’s own count, 55,000 tapes and discs).

I’ve been renting from the store since the early Nineties. At that time, I was shuttling the tapes back and forth on the subway to Queens. Now that I live in Manhattan, it’s still a hike downtown to rent and return. Why have I gone to so much trouble to rent from Kim’s? It started as a function of my rampant cinephilia, and the decision by the store’s managers to stock movies that never played NYC’s busy rep-theater circuit and which, to this day, can’t be easily found on the Internet. Arranged, I should add, in true geek fashion: by genre, country, and director.

In 1993, I began producing and hosting a weekly arts cable-access show here in Manahattan, and my dependence on Kim’s hard-to-find movies grew. My focus on the show has been “from high art to low trash” (as I’ve said in my introduction in each week – further info on the show is available on www.mediafunhouse.com ). I can’t count the number of times I’ve preceded an interview with a filmmaker — be they grindhouse or arthouse — with a Kim’s run to take a look at their obscure works. The “Deceased Artiste” obit tributes I do have also benefited from the store’s rental library —a 2007 tribute to the earlier films of Ingmar Bergman was composed almost entirely of clips from Kim’s VHS tapes.

When Mondo Kim’s shutters its doors in a month, there will be only two stores I’m aware of in Manhattan that still rent old VHS (the eclectic New York Video and the Video Room). The key at Kim’s, however, has not just been the VHS, but the avid acquisition of mail-order items and transfers of imported releases of films that are in DVD limbo now and for the foreseeable future.

L.A., Austin, Seattle, and several other cities have retained their well-loved alternative video-rental stores, but when Mondo Kim’s closes, NYC will be strictly out of luck. It will join other Village institutions that have bitten the dust in the 21st century, from CBGBs to various zine stores, record shops, “movie material” emporia, and countless landmark eateries and bars. Kim’s has not just been a video store, it’s been an irreplaceable resource for those on a low-budget who want — and in the case of students and journalist, need — to see the “rest” of cinema history.

For that kind of experience, a subway ride was a small price to pay. –Ed Grant