After succumbing to the demise of physical home entertainment and then being lodged in a mountain village in Sicily, the eclectic holdings of New York City mainstay Kim’s Video have returned home.
Alamo Drafthouse launched Kim’s Video Underground, a new outpost of the downtown indie film temple, which closed for good in 2014 after a years-long death rattle amid the rise of streaming. It occupies a site on the ground floor of the new Lower Alamo manhattan location, which opened last October under an office building near the World Trade Center.
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Alamo founder Tim League joined iconoclastic retailer Youngman Kim and officials from New York and Salemi, Italy (population: 10,000) for a reopening ceremony Wednesday night. About a third of Kim’s total collection of 55,000 records and VHS tapes are available to circulate, with plans to spin the rest over time.
Nodding to a tradition started by soldiers in Napoleon’s army in the 1700s, Kim used a sword to open a bottle of champagne. “No one died,” League joked. “Kim’s video will live forever!”
As with similar homemade video Companies in North Carolina, Austin, and Los Angeles, Alamo lets customers rent records or tapes for free, though they must put down a credit card and agree to cover late fees. Video, like food and cocktail offerings at Alamo, gives customers a reason to spend more time in corporate spaces.
“Today is a homecoming. Kim’s Video is part of New York’s historic film and indie culture,” said Anne del Castillo, Commissioner of the New York City Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment. added that she had lived early in her career on Avenue A, near a Kim’s location in the East Village But given that she lacked the professional guts in her belt she would later land as a producer and executive at PBS, she added with a laugh, “I felt pretty intimidated and didn’t feel cool enough to go into Kim! But I knew it really formed my sense of the culture and of the community. It was a gathering place for creative people.
The quixotic decision to ship records and cassettes to Italy as Kim’s last locations wrapped up operations only reinforced the shop’s colorful heritage. However, collectors were quickly alarmed when plans for a tourist center and screening room in Sicily fell through and boxes languished in storage.
The original Kim’s opened in 1986 on St. Marks Place in the East Village and soon added a handful of additional locations. Originally a grocer and dry cleaner, Kim decided to start offering video cassettes as VCRs began to explode in popularity in the 1980s. In its heyday, Kim’s was a public square for moviegoers, amassing a collection which encompassed a bewildering array of styles, eras and countries of origin. Staff members, some of whom attended Wednesday’s ceremony, were known to be shrewd, bordering on heights. Quentin Tarantino, according to legend, was once turned away because he didn’t have his membership card and couldn’t remember the number.
The rise of the store parallels the emergence of independent film as a flourishing industry. It also matches the waves of gentrification that have altered Manhattan’s cityscape. Ultimately, Kim fell victim to home entertainment’s drastic reduction in physical activity as streaming became the default movie delivery system. Unable to find an acceptable alternative that would keep the entire collection intact, Kim struck a deal with Salemi.
In an interview with Deadline, he said he had never felt completely comfortable with the records and tapes he had spent decades collecting in such an unknown and remote setting. “I’ve visited about 10 times over the years,” he said. Ultimately, the collection did not suffer from the trip, he said.
League said he had “tons of doubts, all the time” that Kim’s treasure would make it intact, and he still worries about the fragility of the VHS tapes, which are being gradually digitized by the industry. Alamo Nonprofit Archive. He said the Lower Manhattan site has proven to be an ideal home because it has ample temperature-controlled storage spaces. Once the repatriation plan was in place, he recalls, executing it was like solving a “100,000 piece jigsaw puzzle.” The covers didn’t match the physical medium, so we were just trying to match them. It took four months of work by a team of five people.
While League readily acknowledged that “it would be a crazy idea to open a video store” as a general proposition, Alamo had the advantage of having existing real estate and staff. He wants the thousands of ticket buyers who pass through Alamo to be able to “take that adventure” and explore Kim’s, just as independent moviegoers have done in decades past.
At the same time, he conceded with a smile: “This is all so weird. I didn’t know if this was all an elaborate scam.
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