A Closed Video Store's Second Act

Sometimes an economic bust in one town translates into an economic boom in another. Allen Pizzey has sent us this Postcard From Sicily:

Yongman Kim gazes at his boarded-up video store in New York City … an archetypal symbol of the recession.

"I felt like I am a loser," said Kim.

At its peak Kim's customer base was 200,000 strong, with four locations. Now he's down to a few customers in a much smaller retail space.

A combination of online video and the recession broke his bank account, and more.

"Well, when I close, some customer cry and my employees also cry. I was pretty sad."

But unlike big time CEOs, Kim blames himself:

"Kim's is always on cutting edge, but how come you didn't prepare for cutting edge this time and lose all the business?" he asks.

But half a world away, in the Sicilian hill town of Salemi, first inhabited in the 6th century B.C. and half-wrecked by an earthquake in 1968, people see Kim in an entirely different light.

"Kim! Kim! Kim!" they chant.

The noisy welcome is for a shipping container bringing all 55,000 titles from Kim's defunct video rental business to a new home.

Most of the offers Kim had to house the collection he built up over twenty years were, as he put it, "disappointing" and even "insulting" - especially as all he wanted was to keep it intact and available to the public.

Then, by chance, an Italian film buff named Franca Pauli heard about Kim and sent him an e-mail.

"This e-mail convince me and grab my attention immediately because it quite different," he said.

(CBS)
The town of Salemi was willing to put Kim's entire stock in the library of a 17th century former monastery, an offer Franca Pauli cheerfully admits was hardly based on a sound financial model.

"It's been all about inspiration and fun," Pauli told CBS News correspondent Allen Pizzey with a laugh. "But the sparkle is completely irrational."

"Irrational in what way?"

"It's just [a] desire of doing this against all reasonable planning."

But that's in keeping with Kim's business philosophy.

The collection includes rare and hard-to-find titles from all over the world, from the sublime ("The Spirit of the Beehive") to the ridiculous ("Mondo Trasho") - not the kind of thing to attract a government bail-out … but too eccentric to abandon.

Ambitious plans include professional sub-titling, Internet streaming, and what's called "a never-ending festival" … films running twenty-four hours a day, which ought to get them through the entire collection in about … eleven years!

Salemi's mile-a-minute-talking Mayor Vittorio Sgarbi saw Kim's collection as a perfect fit for what he calls "Project Earthquake," a somewhat unorthodox strategy to stimulate his town's economy and rejuvenate its devastated historic center.

About 1,000 ruined houses are being offered for sale, for one Euro (about $1.30 at today's exchange rates).

The only condition is that they be rebuilt by local craftsmen to their original form within two years.

And when they're finished, Kim's 55,000 videos will provide years of entertainment.

Two economic dreams together ... an ideal business model for troubled times.
  • CBSNews

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