Volume 77 / Number 37 - Feb. 13 - 19, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Villager photo by Jefferson Siegel

Santo Mollica, right, with customer Thomas Hooper, who works nearby and came in to order business cards at Mollica’s store, The Source Unlimited, at 331 E. Ninth St.

Photocopies to DVD dupes, no limits at The Source

By Kristin T. Edwards

The bar in “Cheers” isn’t the only place where everyone knows your name. They also know it at The Source Unlimited in the East Village.

On a recent Friday afternoon, the small copy shop and stationery supply store saw a steady stream of customers, many of them calling out “Hey, Santo” as they entered.

That would be Santo Mollica, the store’s affable owner. From the conversations they had with him, it was clear that many came there often. Also getting frequent greetings were Mollica’s girlfriend Margaret and their dog Satcho. While not directly involved with the business, Margaret does help out from time to time and is known in the neighborhood, as well. Satcho is popular, too.

“People come just to see him and bring him treats,” Mollica said.

“I have a lot of regular customers — artists, businesses owners and regular people,” Mollica said of his clientele. Customers are drawn back by the diverse services The Source Unlimited offers.

In addition to black-and-white and color photocopies, customers can also make other promotional items, such as business cards, postcards, stamps and stickers. The store can also duplicate CDs and DVDs and sells an array of fun postcards and stationery supplies.

“This is the only place that sells these pink notepads. I think he carries them just for me. He understands the pink,” said Tanya Seeman, a freelance costume designer for film and TV.

Yet, there’s more to Source Unlimited’s success than their goods and services.

“They are beloved in the neighborhood for their service, honesty and their good looks,” said John David Earnest with a laugh.

Earnest is a composer in the Village who has been patronizing the shop for 20 years for all his binding and copying needs. When he’s in town, he pops in a few times a week. As a lover of small businesses, he prefers The Source to bigger, commercial companies, because he knows he is getting more attention.

Mollica purchased the space, at 331 E. Ninth St., in 1979. At the time he had been taking classes uptown at Hunter College. The advertisement in The Village Voice described the location as being mixed-use space, one where someone could live and run his or her business. As his first choice, a loft in Soho was to pricey; the mixed-use space was just right.

An aspiring musician, Mollica at first had to pawn his electric guitar to make the rent on the space. He was able to buy the instrument back again, only to resell it once more.

“I didn’t really like electric guitars,” he said. “It looked good, though; it’s easy to sell them when they look good.”

In 1982, Mollica was promoting his own music as a solo artist and doing layout and design on the side for other artists for some extra money. He often had a hard time getting things copied, so he bought his own equipment and opened his business. He continued to live in the rear.

It was his love of music that inspired him to offer CD — and previously cassette — and DVD duping. While some newer competitors have seen the genius of the service, he was one of the few places doing it at the time.

Many local bands and artists have visited the shop to make copies of their demo tapes. As a musician himself, he enjoys helping people in the arts.

“I like to give ’em a break. It’s a hard nut to crack,” he said of the arts.

Though he has had patrons crack it.

“The band We Might Be Giants used to come in here to make their fliers,” Mollica said. Actor Danny Hoch, who appeared in the movie “Lucky You” last year, also was a frequent customer at the store before he made it.

“He came back to visit recently, just to see if we were still here,” Mollica said.

As a longtime East Villager, Mollica has seen the neighborhood change. He said while there’s still some crime, it has greatly decreased since the 1980s when the area was full of drugs.

“People would approach you on the corner and try and sell to you,” he recalled.

As the area became safer, it also became more high-end, with more boutiques coming in and rents raising, Mollica said, recounting the familiar story. Of the area’s explosion of bars and clubs, he said that while the area has gained a nightlife, “they did so at the expense of the day life.”

Things on his street changed as well. Many of the mixed-use spaces on his block were converted from residential dwellings into retail storefronts, and there was pressure for him to move out of the building, as well. He began a court battle with his landlord in the 1990s and recently was finally able to resolve the matter amicably.

So now Mollica will be able to keep on both living and working in the space where he is so well known.

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