By Dave Schwab
Most people only get to retire once. Kensington Video owner Guy Hanford is getting to do it twice.
But the self-proclaimed workaholic is in no rush — he’s still got movies to rent and sell.
Hanford intends to keep Kensington Video, which re-opened in early 2016 after closing in March 2015, open now until at least April 1.
That, he said, will allow customers the opportunity to purchase some of his stock of 70,000 movies, particularly foreign films and rare movies.
Back in the 1980s, Hanford, a schoolteacher, got permission from his mom, Winifred “Winnie” Hanford, to utilize part of her gift store located at 4067 Adams Ave. for video rentals.
Over time, gifts gradually gave way to videos. Kensington Video prospered for 30-plus years as perhaps San Diego’s premiere movie-rental mom and pop.
But the internet and video streaming, plus heightened competition from mail-order businesses like Netflix and Redbox, dramatically altered the industry landscape.
Corporate rentals like Blockbuster and Hollywood Video died. Demand for “old school” video stores like Ken Video dwindled.
In March 2015, the Hanford family opted out of the video-rental business, closing their doors in the building they owned.
But after an outpouring of support from the public, their initial “retirement” lasted only three months, with Guy resurfacing to announce plans to resurrect the video shop.
Hanford’s new hybrid business model incorporated a juiceria in a remodeled, downsized space coupling it with a higher-tech, sleeker video-rental counter.
The new concept allowed customers to find movies online, to be retrieved by Hanford and staff, rather than browsing store aisles themselves.
Hanford noted that the new business concept didn’t “fail,” as much as it “just wasn’t as successful as we’d hoped.” He said the juiceria, Vidajuice, didn’t catch on as quickly as expected, pointing out that fruit-juice places “often take a couple of years to work by building up a reputation and a clientele.” Vidajuice closed Dec. 31, 2016.
And Hanford admitted that luring enough of his old customers back for a return engagement after their first retirement, necessary to make the new business model viable, proved to be a formidable challenge.
“There are lots of places, including Amazon, where people can buy movies now, and they can get them on-demand or by streaming,” he added.
Of the newer video technologies, Hanford commented, “We’re on a technological super bullet train. It’s going in that direction, and you’ll have to either jump on — or jump off.”
Hanford said people “just don’t have as much time” to watch movies now with all the varied interests vying for their time.
Plus there’s now a generational divide with movie viewing. Older people are holding on to the hands-on video-store model, while younger people prefer the internet and the newer technologies.
Hanford also lost some of his old clientele to his new business model, not quite realizing his other video storefront succeeded “because people wanted to come in and browse and put their hands on it [videos]. That’s why I had thousands of films out on the floor.”
Is Ken Video’s demise a harbinger of the beginning of the end of movies as we’ve known them?
“No,” Hanford answered unequivocally. “Believe me, movies will never go out of style. It’s a medium that will continue to change, imitate life, and create a reality that doesn’t even exist. Movies are so necessary as an art form, especially in the times right now that are so very divisive in this country. People can go to the movies and escape. People love this kind of stuff. And there are so many more great films now, especially from foreign cultures.”
The 68-year-old Hanford said his re-imagining of Kensington Video might have succeeded if he and his 89-year-old mother Winnie were a bit younger.
“We don’t have the energy now to be any more creative than what we have been,” he confessed.
In the end, Guy said, “we just didn’t have enough customers to make it the second time.”
Ironically, Kensington Video’s business, which was real slow the first of the year, has picked up considerably now with their going-out-of-business sale.
“People have joked with my saying I need to go out of business more often,” Hanford said.
Guy said his family is in the process of picking a retailer to occupy Kensington Video’s space once it closes. He wants the replacement to “fit the neighborhood, be family oriented and a draw for customers bringing them to the community.”
Though the second coming of Kensington Video is drawing to a close, there will be an “afterlife” for Kensington’s home-grown mom and pop, Guy Hanford, and his lifelong movie passion collecting and exhibiting films.
“For a select group of customers I’ve known over the years — about 500 people — I will retain a relationship with and continue to rent/sell to them,” he said noting, though the details are yet to be worked out, that Kensington Video’s “next life” will involve mail order and customer drop-off in Kensington.
Of retirement, Hanford counseled, “You will have an adjustment, a sadness, a refocusing in your life.”
Hanford added that retirement is also a period of reflection. And for him, looking back on brick-and-mortar Kensington Video will always be a joy.
“People just weren’t customers — they became our friends,” he said. “They got to know our family, and we got to know theirs. My mom, especially, is going to miss that interaction.”
Continuing customers will be able to watch movie trailers and order movies online at kensingtonvideo.com.
—Dave Schwab can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sara is the editor of San Diego Uptown News.