Mom and pop store Kensington Video on the way to celebrate 50 years
By Dave Schwab | SDUN Reporter
A quintessential aspect of mom-and-pop stores, Kensington Video’s clientele are one big, extended family.
“I personally want to thank all of San Diego,” said co-owner Winifred “Winnie” Hanford. “They’ve all cared for us.”
The matriarch of the Hanford family, Winnie Hanford will see her Kensington staple celebrate its 50th anniversary next year. Of those 50 years, the last 28 have been devoted to renting and selling films. The store is located at 4067 Adams Ave.
More than a small business, though, Kensington Video can be considered a museum, and the Hanfords –Winnie and husband Rich Hanford, along with daughter Pam Sisneros and son Guy Hanford – are curators and archivists.
But Kensington Video’s connection to community goes beyond renting videos and answering random film questions for crossword puzzles. Winnie Hanford loves to tell stories about the family’s connection with the store’s 60,00 members, too.
Once, as the storeowner tells it, a woman wanted to record a program on her VHS, but could not figure out how to program the machine. Rich and Guy Hanford went over and showed her how to do it, free of charge.
Another time, one busy Saturday morning, the Hanfords received an impromptu phone calls from a young lady with three children sick to their stomachs. “Would you get me six classic cokes? That’s the only thing that will settle their stomachs,” the woman asked.
Naturally, Rich Hanford helped, just as he did for another customer, and another. Winnie Hanford has many stories.
“You have to extend yourself if you want to make a go of things,” she said.” You’ve got to build a clientele.”
Over the years, the national chain retailers have come and gone, yet Kensington Video remains.
Guy Hanford, a retired schoolteacher who oversees the store’s titles, gets credit for starting the business, convincing his parents to turn a small portion of their gift shop into movie rentals, realizing the dream of turning a hobby into a profitable business.
“My dad and I bought 250 titles to begin with and started membership,”
Guy Hanford said, adding that the store now boasts upwards of 65,000 film titles.
“My vision for the video store was for it to be an archive for movie lovers,” he said. “When Blockbuster and Hollywood Video came around, I certainly didn’t want to copy them. We were here before both of them, and we’ve outlasted both of them.”
Guy Hanford said the Blockbuster model that most everyone subscribed to “was to buy shallow and broad,” bringing in multiple copies of select films.
“We ignored that formula, of buying a lot of copies of a few titles,” he said, “and we also ignored the advice of not getting foreign films and classic films.”
The ability of film to “take you into another world,” Winnie Hanford said, provides universal appeal that has allowed the Hanford family to keep the rental business running for the past 28 years.
“I think people want to be taken away. Everybody has to have a change from the everyday,” Sisneros said. “They have to have something in between, something to talk about.”
Longtime Kensington Video patron Sidney Green has since moved out of the neighborhood, but said he keeps coming back because of the store’s incomparable selection and homespun charm.
“What I’ve always liked about it, number one, is that you can browse,” he said. “They have such a tremendous collection of, not only foreign films, but documentaries, music, BBC productions, science fiction, horror, Kung Fu [and] cartoons. There’s almost nothing that I wanted that I couldn’t find there.”
Guy Hanford, who said he is considering returning to teaching, thinks the move to “electronic delivery” for movies is an inevitable part of their future.
“If you’re a consumer, it’s good,” he said, adding that the quality of downloading movies remains an issue to be resolved.
“If you’re a mom-and-pop store, it’s terrible,” he said. “Look at all the mom and pops that have disappeared in the last 10 years. That’s a shame.”
Though the Hanfords see the end of mom-and-pop video stores like theirs, all four said they are in it for the sheer love of film and community.
“I tell people, ‘We’ll be around as long as we can possibly be here,’” Sisneros said, who intends to retire from the video business whenever that day finally comes.
After 28 years renting movies, it still hasn’t gotten routine for Winnie Hanford, who said she remains “very enthused,” about the business, especially when it comes to her daily recommendations drawn from the approximately 700 films she views annually, appropriately called “Winnie’s picks.”
“I got a letter from a lady this morning,” Winnie Hanford said. “‘Your suggestions are just so good.’ I feel so good when somebody comes back with that.”