It’s not too surprising that Kung-Fu Video owners James Bennett and Aaron Crawford are venturing into another retail niche that is largely considered commercially destitute. After all, the Downtown Crossing DVD-and-paraphernalia outpost has a thriving business, despite Netflix and a zillion other Web competitors.
Along with Somerville News reporter (and long-time Kung-Fu Video customer) George Hassett, Crawford and Bennett recently launched a new print magazine, Here is Underworld Boston (H.U.B.), dedicated to illustrating the dark side of Beantown, then and now. Like their shop, they expect the mag to buck market trends.
“Magazine sales might be down everywhere else, but we can’t keep F.E.D.S. and Don Diva on the shelf,” says Bennett of similar, nationally focused urban-crime publications. “We started H.U.B. because this city has a story, too, and there’s more to it than just Whitey Bulger.”
In spelunking for Boston war stories to report, Hassett — a crime junkie who covers everything from the police to politics in Somerville — mined headlines that have mesmerized him since he became obsessed with drug-runner documentaries and A&E specials as a child. His first cover subject is Darryl “God” Whiting, a legendary Roxbury kingpin who is currently serving a life sentence, and whose notorious career was the basis for the movie In Too Deep.
“I can tell you anything you want to know about drug dealers and serial killers,” says Hassett, who interviewed Whiting on the phone several times, and who brings journalistic integrity to a genre that is often literarily underwhelming. “Don Diva and F.E.D.S. have all the street cred in the world,” adds Hassett, “but their stories aren’t always written well. Of course, most of the time they’re so crazy and exciting that it doesn’t really matter.”
Also in the debut issue of H.U.B.: a history of armored-car robberies in Charlestown, an interview with Mattapan rapper and former convict Big Shug, a feature by famed boxing writer Don Stradley about how at least 15 Greater Boston prizefighters with questionable mob ties were murdered in the 1960s and ’70s.
“These are the kinds of stories that don’t really get told,” says Hassett. “If not for these kinds of magazines,” adds Bennett, “a lot of people also wouldn’t know about important issues like drug laws, voting rights, and [Criminal Offender Record Information]. This is what our customers look for.”
Though situated on the second floor above a Washington Street jewelry mall — and across the street from the über-corporate TJ Maxx — Kung-Fu video nurtures a subterranean vibe. The carpets, straight out of a ’70s-era cineplex, are spotted with popcorn tubs and film reels; the glass cases offer everything from “tobacco pipes” to pocket knives; every last inch, from wall-to-wall-to-ceiling, is covered in karate flicks.
“Our customer base is incredibly diverse,” says Bennett. “People come here from everywhere because they heard this is where they can get those underground goods — whether it’s the crime magazines, the mixtapes, or the booty mags. I like to think of us as the urban Newbury Comics.”