One of Little Italy‘s oldest businesses, John Jovino Gun Shop, has closed after 109 years. Founded in 1911, it was the oldest gun retailer in New York City, and claimed to be the oldest in the country. The store was originally located behind the Centre Street Police Headquarters, which is now a condominium. The shop has been owned by the Imperatio Family, who purchased it off the namesake, John Jovino, in the 1920s. Charlie Hu, aka “Gun King Charlie,” has been running the store in 1995. The store has been featured in many New York City-based films like Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets.
Hu spoke to Stacy Joy who photographed him and the store on the last day of operation for Vanishing New York. Hu said, “I’m very emotional right now, as you can see, I am having a rough day. Everything is super sad.” He recounted for Joy his experience fending off both the Italian mafia and Chinese gangs when he first took over the gun store (clearly, he has survived to tell the tale).
With such a long history, it’s not surprising the guns sold at John Jorvino have made the rounds. Not only are members of the NYPD and other law enforcement long-time customers, the weapons have at times been linked to crimes committed in the city. The store was never accused of selling guns illegally. The store was also written about in an 2007 Village Voice article connecting sales from the store to UN diplomats from the Republic of Congo. “I’m very busy with diplomats right now,” Hu told the reporter back then, saying that the store did handle diplomatic sales in general.
The store has closed due to primarily the coronavirus pandemic and rising rents. But other factors like the rise of internet sales, increased regulation, and shifts in the supply chain have also made an impact. The four foot long revolver (a replica) that long hung in above the store has been sold to someone who makes gun sculptures and will get relocated to Los Angeles.
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