In its heyday, the sprawling bookstore tucked into a nondescript industrial park behind White Flint Mall in Rockville was a curious outpost of the Cold War.

Researchers, Russophiles and spies made their way to Victor Kamkin Inc., which for decades collected and sold books detailing every aspect of life and history in the Soviet Union, all in their original Russian. A little more than 1 million bound volumes were in the last inventory, taken two years ago. Workers there estimate there could be nearly 2 million books and other published materials today.

On Monday morning, Montgomery County sheriff's deputies are expected to receive the entire collection at the county incinerator.

Victor Kamkin Inc., named for the Russian emigre{acute} who founded it 50 years ago, is being evicted, a victim of the Cold War's demise and declining demand for Russian books. With no buyer for the collection, its landlord arranged for the entire stock to be destroyed.

"It's a real shame to think these will become a book burning," said Igor Kalageorgi, the great-nephew of Victor Kamkin and the store's owner. Late yesterday afternoon, from his bed at Suburban Hospital, he was still trying to negotiate with his landlord to save the books. He went to the hospital Thursday for bleeding ulcers.

Victor Kamkin Inc. for decades was a strange middleman in the Cold War. It reflected the geopolitics of its time, selling obscure titles to agents from the CIA as well as the KGB, who were supposedly photographed by the other side as they came and went. A capitalist business in one of America's wealthiest counties, Kamkin nonetheless profited mightily from Soviet subsidies and a state-owned publishing monopoly. Among its musty stacks could be found the popular "Dr. Zhivago" by Boris Pasternak -- banned in the Soviet Union -- and esoteric titles such as "Problems in Crystal Physics With Solutions." A quarter of the store's sales were to U.S. government agencies.

The Soviet government subsidized Victor Kamkin, said Larry Miller, librarian of the Slavic collection at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who has done about $25,000 worth of business a year with Kamkin for 42 years. "Essentially, the Soviets were paying the rent because the books were so cheap," Miller said.

When the state publishing monopoly collapsed with the Soviet Union, Kamkin could no longer count on either the assured delivery or low prices it had for years. Interest in Russian-language books waned. More book importers entered the market. By last year, Kamkin couldn't pay the $15,000 monthly rent for its warehouse.

Kamkin is $200,000 behind in payments to its landlord, Allen Kronstadt of Randolph Buildings L.P., and in December eviction proceedings began.

Normally in an eviction, anything left in the rented space is piled up on the curbside. That usually amounts to a few items of furniture or clothing. But the sheriff said putting nearly 2 million books on the street was impossible. Sheriff's deputies insisted that Kronstadt take the books away -- destroy them if he had to -- to keep them off the street.

"There would be nowhere to put that many books in the public right of way," said Lt. John Dean, who has been handling the case for the sheriff's department.

The landlord, who has been taking books he wants on Russian Jewish history off Kamkin's shelves in recent days, tried several book publishers, a Russian newspaper, an auctioneer and libraries with special collections, but to no avail.

"I've had a publisher tell me, sure, he'd want maybe 5,000 or 10,000 of the rarest ones, but not a million," Kronstadt said.

So laborers have been hired to load the collection from the 20,000-square-foot warehouse onto trucks and haul it to the county transfer station, where they could be burned.

Kronstadt, not eager to be seen as a man who burns books, said he was looking into recycling options, which would mean, essentially, pulping them.

"Kamkin provided the Russian community with a good choice of books," said Oleg Kalugin, a retired KGB general and former member of Soviet parliament. "It's a pity. It's a loss for Washington," he said of Kamkin's closing.

Kamkin once was one of only two American importers of Soviet-published books and periodicals. Generations of Russian immigrants ordered magazines and newspapers from Kamkin.

Kamkin, who was a lawyer, was also said to have been a officer in the Russian imperial army who fled to China from Russia shortly before the Bolshevik October Revolution in 1917. There, he started publishing Russian classics that became popular for the fairly large Russian population in China.

Kamkin came to the United States in 1949 and briefly ran a pig farm in Tennessee. But after a heart attack, he moved to Washington in 1953, where he opened his first bookstore on 14th Street. "He had one shelf of books when he first started," said Kalageorgi, his great-nephew.

Kamkin cultivated a long business relationship with the Soviet government's International Book Co. It made Kamkin's business extremely valuable to Americans who wanted to find out what the Soviet government was telling its citizens in the form of literature, newspapers and textbooks.

At its peak, Kamkin employed 40 mostly Russian immigrants. A quarter of the store's business was with the federal government, such as the CIA and the National Security Agency.

"It was agencies that you weren't supposed to know existed ordering stuff," Kalageorgi said.

Kamkin often had books in Russian that were banned in the Soviet Union, including works by Pasternak and Osip Mandelstam, a poet who was tortured in Stalin's prisons.

"You couldn't get Mandelstam's books in Russia, but Kamkin would have them," said Kalugin, who now lives in Silver Spring and has frequented Kamkin's store for decades.

Kamkin's business was helped by his relationship with the Soviet government, which was eager to have a U.S. distributor for its publications and sold them to Kamkin cheap.

"The books were treated as propaganda. The Soviets were interested in getting as many Russian books into the U.S. as possible and Kamkin was one of the ways they did it," Miller said.

"By the 1950s, they were the premier supplier of materials from the U.S.S.R.," said John Daly, whose father was a professor of Russian studies at the Naval Academy who started buying books from Kamkin more than four decades ago and created a 7,000 volume library -- mostly from Kamkin.

After Kamkin died in 1974, his wife, Elena, took over the company's stores in New York, Rockville and Reisterstown.

Kamkin has struggled for 10 years with declining sales. It grosses about $1 million a year.

"Ever since the Cold War ended, it was like a snap with our business," Kalageorgi said.

Shortly after taking over, Kalageorgi closed the New York store and has moved some of the rare books from Rockville to the Reisterstown store. He plans to continue operating in Reisterstown but that store can't accommodate any more of the Rockville store's collection.

The amount of material to be cleared out is immense. In the front is a small store with a few racks of cards, trinkets, matryoshka dolls and CDs. In the back is the warehouse where there are rows and rows of books, packed tightly, floor to ceiling. Yesterday employees were busily moving books around, trying to help a few last-minute customers find rare treasures in the stacks.

"This is the Elvis of Russia," said Nathaly Nikitina, a 57-year-old store employee from Russia, as she held up a record by Vladimir Vysotsky, called "Sons Are Leaving for Battle," with a $3 red price tag on it. Company health benefits for Nikitina and her 16-year-old daughter were canceled three months ago, but Nikitina, who makes $12 an hour, and about a dozen other workers keep showing up.

"I came to work here my first day in America," 17 years ago in the New York store, she said. When the former manager, Anatoly Zabavsky, told her that New York was "no place to raise a young girl," she came to the Rockville store.

"I like it here. This is what I know. These books," she said as she handled "Crime and Punishment" by Feodor Dostoevski.

Also slated for destruction: the two-inch-thick red book telling of 50 years of the Russian Red Army's activities, including its march across Eastern Europe shown with colored maps; selected writings and letters of such Russian greats as Pasternak and Maxim Gorky; large-print books for children by Alexander Pushkin; and more than 20 volumes of Russian history by Sergei Solovev in green leather binding.

A few rows down near the back are books by Vasily Shukshin, a Russian writer and actor who died in 1974. And nearby lies a $13.95 copy of selected works by Mikhail Bulgakov, a popular writer of satire.

The store will be open over the weekend for a clearance sale.

"I thought I could save it," Kalageorgi said, as he opened bills in a tall, black leather chair in his office of his family's business Thursday afternoon. "Most of the people working here are Jewish refugees. They've worked here for years. I don't know what they're going to do. It's a bit of a mess."

Nathaly Nikitina, a 17-year employee of Victor Kamkin Inc., retrieves books yesterday for customers Ludmila Kozakova, left, and Mykola Misyura. The Rockville store and warehouse is to be emptied on Monday.Nathaly Nikitina hugs fellow bookstore employee Anatoliy Bisk yesterday.