Enjoy the next five months

Kensington Video closes February 28, 2015

“Where’s my movie?” the voice on the phone demanded. It was Kensington Video’s Winnie Hanford calling to remind delinquent me to return a ridiculously past-due rental. “And by the way,” she added in the same nonchalant tone one would use when asking to pass the salt, “we’re closing.”

As first reported on The Big Screen, Kensington Video will cease operation on February 28, 2015. It comes as no shock. Digital technology placed a lethal chokehold on the video rental business. No one knows this better than Guy Hanford, one of four family members who are and always have been Kensington Video. Twas Guy who purchased every tape and disc that crowd the store (70,000). He is both friend and kindred soul, a devout cinephile who could no more envision a life without movies than I. Guy acted as a liaison of sorts earlier this year when Landmark’s Ken Cinema threatened to fold. His contacts and sagacious advice proved most beneficial in our quest to keep Kensington Video’s next-door neighbor from going under. Who would have thought that a few months later and it would be the Ken’s neighbor shutting its doors?

It was around this time that Guy hinted at the store going the way of the RCA Selectavision. Were it not for their name on the property deed, the business would have probably gone belly up somewhere between Hollywood Video and Blockbuster. Guy is all too aware of how “technology has changed everything. Back in the beginning of our days, the only competition we had outside of other video stores was Cox Cable.” Netflix, movies on demand, and the feeble selection offered by the red coffins in 7-Eleven parking lots have helped to make home video more conveniently consumable than ever before.

Not all VHS titles were upgraded to DVD, but for the most part, the Hanfords continued to be “aggressive investors” in their business. Years ago, Guy’s dad, Rich, pulled him aside and questioned the need to keep purchasing in bulk. Guy knew the history of cinema didn’t stop in 2000 and that his database needed to grow in order to keep up with and reflect the changing times and tastes of their voracious members.

The family could just as easily lease the space and take in almost as much revenue were they to continue opening their doors six days a week. Something tells me if were it up to Guy, Kensington Video would still be open seven days a week. Mom, dad, and sister Pam outvoted him 3 to 1. The final decision relates more to the heart than it does commerce. “I’m doing it for my parents,” he confides with more than a hint of pride and adoration in his voice.

Winnie and Rich Hanford have been operating out of their Adams Avenue location since 1963, 21 years before turning their Hallmark Cards shop into the best damn video store in all the land. It’s always been a family business and one that would cease to operate were two of its integral components to drop out. With Winnie and Rich both closer to 90 than they are 85, it’s about time they enjoyed the fruits of their decades devoted to community enrichment.

With the exception of a few hired hands, Kensington Video has always operated under a strict policy of “only blood touches the register.” Winnie laughed at the thought of her grandchildren carrying on the family tradition, saying, “They don’t want to work as hard as we do!” When asked about selling the outmoded enterprise outright, Winnie admitted, “No one could make a go of this kind of business anymore. I don’t have the heart to sell it and basically set someone up for failure.”

I’m as guilty as the rest of us when it comes to having let the Hanfords down. What with a DVR and hundreds of channels to choose from, most notably Turner Classic Movies, why rent when you can steal? And even after Winnie granted me behind-the-counter access to the more desirable sale titles, the majority of my recent DVD purchases have been online.

To those who still have a green sticker on the back of their driver’s license, be sure to stop in and reminisce before it’s no more. Guy encourages patrons to “Enjoy the next five months. If it were five days, that would be a major accelerated grieving process. We can do a lot of things in five months.” And remember to show a little respect. Don’t be like the oaf who had the nerve to ask Pam how one goes about opening a Netflix account. It gets worse. After requesting a list of recommendations, one dim bulb had the audacity to call her daughter — right in front of Winnie — asking that she add them to her Netflix queue.

True to form, the first words out of Winnie’s mouth when I arrived for our interview weren’t, “Hi, Scott” or “Thanks for last week’s write-up.” “Did you bring my movie?” the lioness snarled. She got her movie back and with it the first of many fond and heartfelt farewells. Without Winnie there to work the crowd, life at 4067 Adams Avenue is about to get a whole lot duller.

Kensington Video

What’s going to happen to the collection? (I call first dibs on the Ozus and Bunuels, Jafar Panahi’s The Mirror, select Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts, and Russ Meyer’s Wild Gals of the Naked West.) Can the business find a home online? What will Winnie do with the sudden influx of free time? For the answers to these questions and an unexpected visit to Winnie’s Proctological Corner (I kid you not), be sure and check out this hilarious video. And while you’re there, leave a comment with your favorite memory of Kensington Video. Winnie has never been on a computer, but Guy promises to print out every word and submit them for her approval.

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I used to go to her gift shop with my mom to pick out a pin set (I remember lizards) or some other small animal ceramics for Winnie's special and personally boxed gift giving wrap up. Then as an adult wanted to get there early weekend to grab new release. She will be missed.

This is such a heartbreaking story. This is why I hate what the internet has done to our lives. Yes, we will be able to download an unlimited assortment of movies from Netflix, et al, but we won't be dealing with a single human being when we do it. More choice, but in an oddly isolated way.

Just point the camera at Winnie and hit record.

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