ZOOM’s Final Days – Megasale of Cultural Treasures in Video and Games

Landlord busts an Aladdin’s cave already being stifled by megastores nearby

Sixty years of fantasy on the block for half price or less

Among the treasures being sold off at 50% discount as Zoom’s emporium of fantasy are these beauties, accompanied by a Cosby kid doll!

Cognoscenti of fantasy culture in this city of niche specialties such as novel games and toys should know that it’s the last two weeks of final sale at the unique and irreplaceable Harlem store Zoom. This commercial but cultural gem has been brought down by a greedy rent increase (from $3800 to $6000) after its customers’ payday splurges were slowly siphoned off by the arrival of Costco, Best Buy and other megastores five years ago over in the 117 St Mall.

Where are you going to find this again, in a store in which you can actually look at and handle it to size it up properly?

Run don’t walk to this small Manhattan storehouse of imagination on Third at 109 Street in the next two weeks while it is still replete with wonders such as a giant four slice ultra hospitable toaster, video game figures and sitcom dolls, choice DVDs (eg Godard’s Breathless, Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolf, A Fish Called Wanda, and Kubrick’s Dr Strangelove, not to mention The Words of Ayn Rand), with benchmark VHS tapes such as Arthur, Local Hero or The Producers (not to mention the unmentionable The Vagina Monologues), and hard to find stuffed toys including a striking 3 foot tall Spiderman, some well costumed Superwomen dolls including Marilyn Monroe and Madonna, and even a wide eyed Bill Cosby kid doll, a couple of monkey heads which grimace, and a really far out prize, a $150 bottle of real Moet et Chandon champagne, vintage 1971. Originally cost three times as much, says Manny.

Maybe a $150 toast to the achievement of a store which served culture?

Zoom is as much clubhouse as store in the late afternoon as owner Manny Villefane exchanges stories rooted in local New York life not yet entirely obliterated by the heavyfooted march of the megastores nearby

In charge is Manny Villfane who for three decades has run the store his mother started thirty years before that, who presides over the clubhouse atmosphere in late afternoon (the store is open 2pm until 8pm) from his seat behind the far end counter, while a local specialist in computer rebuilding picks up a home phone designed in payphone format with a slot for 25 cent coins, and a baseball card collector shuffles boxfuls of rarities and reminisces with him about champion sluggers of the past.

This home pay phone with coin slot will keep your guests from freeloading, if you don’t buy it for changing it into a computer

Of course the end of Zoom is a sad loss for the city and just one more hole in the sidewalk city fabric which once knitted together the lives and interests of locals in a social network built on personal encounters with owners and their assistants, who became encyclopedias of information and explanation on their products and related activity such as fairs and shows of the latest versions available, whether they were in mundane hardware or drug stores or specialists in electronic excitement like Zoom.

Raymond behind the counter is himself a storehouse – of advice on the quality of movies you may not have heard of, but which at a giveaway $1 you can hardly afford to pass up, as well as how everything works

We recall running into Mayor Bloomberg a few years ago when he was cutting the ribbon on a new installation of wifi in the City’s parks – whatever happened to that? – and mentioning that we were covering the replacement of a storied Mafia barber nearby on 116 St by yet another Chinese takeout, another casualty of the perfect rent hike storm of the last decade blasting small storefronts in Manhattan and replacing them with Duane Reades.

A rather magnificent toaster “worth $300” went for $65 to some lucky buyer to warm up his kitchen and make it the most hospitable room in the apartment

We suggested that there was a need for legislation to slow the commercial rent tornados obliterating the small guys with their irreplaceable knowledge and all the what economists call human capital they had built up in a neighborhood over the years.

Detecting my English accent the good mayor replied “Oh we let money decide everything in this city, that’s the way we do it here!”

After a pause, though, he added,”of course, if it was my barber maybe I would do something!”

A box of 45s includes Tom Jones’ Its Not Unusual on a Parrot pressing

The barber was lucky enough to find a substitute location in the basement of a house along 116 Street recently bought by a doctor at Mt Sinai who heard about his predicament. But in the case of Zoom, a blank shutter is all that will be left as the month ends.

Landlords off the leash are eviscerating New York’s storefront culture, and blank walls is soon going to be all that is left of a vibrant local institution which was far more than a store

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