Movie lover's paradise

Scott Marks scripts Kensington Video’s story

Guy Hanford

Kensington Video

4067 Adams Avenue, Kensington

A placard tacked to the top of one of Kensington Video’s shelving units reads: “Winnie’s Picks.” Named for Winnie Hanford — store owner, matriarch, and all around Queen of Kensington — regulars recognize it as the ultimate stamp of approval.

Not all of the films sanctioned by Winnie undergo a rigorous screening process. Such was the case several years ago, when, while scrambling to fill a few empty slots, Winnie ran across a copy of the Gillian Anderson thriller Closure.

Winnie’s son Guy’s eyes bulged like the Wolf’s peepers in a Tex Avery cartoon. “You sure about that one, Mom?” he asked. “It’s about the violent assault of a woman and the brutal revenge she enacts against her assailants. It’s fairly rough stuff.”

“Good heavens, no,” Winnie gasped, fingertips pressed to her lips. After plucking the objectionable title from the stacks, she took it home for a private screening. The next day, she returned the box to its rightful place among the elite.

Sometimes the show in the store is better than the one onscreen.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Kensington Video, the little gift shop on Adams Avenue that evolved into a world-class movie-lover’s paradise. The thriving family-run business has had enough mom-and-pop (and brother-and-sister) snap and crackle in it to live on long after clamshell cases and box art were supplanted by hard drives and mirrored discs, titles scrawled in Sharpie across the top.

Meanwhile, Blockbuster and Hollywood Video have shuttered their local outlets. Owner and buyer Guy Hanford understands why. “When you went into a Blockbuster or Hollywood to rent a film, you never engaged in personal conversation with the employees. The owners were never there. Here, there’s always an owner, and a staff with a wide-ranging knowledge of movies. We have people who come in here and share their lives with us.”

Winnie and Rich Hanford, both 85, closed their family business in St. Louis — an old-school general store where, Rich says, Winnie “sold everything from Levi’s to bologna that I sliced by hand” — and moved to San Diego in February 1963. The couple had gotten their first taste of San Diego while on vacation, and like so many, fell in love with the weather and decided to return and set down roots.

Brother/sister team Guy and Pam continue to keep Kensington Video all in the family.

Brother/sister team Guy and Pam continue to keep Kensington Video all in the family.

Guy was 14 and his sister Pam 11 when the family took ownership of Guddy’s Gift Shop on Adams Avenue and changed the name to the generic Kensington Gift Shop. (Well, anything was better than Guddy’s.) Winnie minded the store, while Rich found employment at Montgomery Ward. A born salesman, he’d been hired as a display manager but was soon promoted to head of hardware. He didn’t make a lot of money, but as Winnie is quick to point out, “We didn’t come from a lot of money. We didn’t need any more income, because we’re very frugal. We were raised in the Depression, and we’re not frivolous people. We live very simple: our business is our life, and I live for this business. It has always been that way.”

Former high-school sweethearts Rich and Winnie have spent the past 67 years in happily-ever-after-land. Rich describes their relationship as “a give and take. You’re not always right, and you’re not always wrong, and sometimes you have to stand up for what’s right and the other person respects that.” He credits his wife’s business acumen for keeping them in the building. “She took over a business that was poorly run. While I was at Ward’s, Winnie was building this place up.”

Guy was working as an assistant principal at a Ramona Intermediate School when the prospect of opening a video store presented itself. It was the early 1980s, and he recalls feeling a lot of job-related stress. Maintaining balance in his life was a constant struggle. “My secretary at the time also worked in a video store in Poway, and she suggested that I open up one of my own.”

Guy broached the subject with Rich, never dreaming that Winnie would offer up the card shop as a home base. “Guy is the one who had the idea,” says Rich. “He thought that home video might be the coming thing. Nobody really knew.” Winnie gave the go-ahead to start the business, but as Rich remembers, there was one stipulation. “It had to be in this building, because she would not allow Guy to take me out of the store.”

Winnie scoffs: “Guy thought that he and Rich would go up the coast. [But] we owned the building. It’s air-conditioned. We’ve got registers and counters, everything is here. Let’s try it here.”

In 1983, a sign reading “Half-Off Sale” was taped to the front window of the Kensington Gift Shop. Collectors, seizing the opportunity, cleared the shelves of their Gorham crystal and Hummels. Empty video-display boxes replaced the pricey tchotchkes.


CUT TO:

1 EXT. KENSINGTON GIFT SHOP — MIDNIGHT — 1983

We hold for a beat before slowly fading to black.

FADE IN:

2 EXT. KENSINGTON VIDEO — DAWN — 1983

“Dad and I broke all the rules of business,” Guy remembers. “I was a partner right from the very beginning. We had long hours; initially I worked nights and on weekends. We were open until 8:30 every night, seven days a week. We did not pull one dollar in salary for the first year. The rent was free, so everything went right back into the business.”

There was one piece missing from the equation: Guy’s sister, Pam. She and her future husband, Willie Cisneros, had moved to Colorado in 1975, where the couple made it legal in 1977. Three children later, they were living in Denver when Kensington Video opened its doors. “My husband and I moved back here from Denver in 1988,” Pam says, “and I became part of the team.”

Rich and Winnie’s one-time tchotchke shop is now a movie-lover’s paradise.

Rich and Winnie’s one-time tchotchke shop is now a movie-lover’s paradise.

The Kensington Gift Shop measured approximately 3000 square feet. A temporary divider was built at the front of the store to separate the cards from the cassettes. If you look closely where the wall changes color, about ten paces from the entrance, you can see where the burgeoning video store was once separated from the dying gift shop. In 1990, Winnie convinced the owner of the adjacent property — at the time a refrigeration outlet — to sell. She made an offer $4000 shy of what the owner had in mind, but the two came to a meeting of the minds once Winnie agreed to pay the difference.

Comments

I worked there twenty years ago and the folks look the same age (I don't). Best wishes to the whole gang. Keep my foreign film section straightened out.... Joel

Like Balboa Park, Kensington Video is another of San Diego's jewels. A rare treasure that elevates life here for those who love cinema. I hope they never close.

Gawd! I need to find my Kensington Video Membership card! I haven't been there for too long.

Someone called me and said I made the cover of The Reader. Thanks for the "compliment?"

Great read. Only been in the shop a few times, but always got a few things when I did. Thanks for the great story, Mr. Marks.

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