Kensington Video goes on record

With the store a thing of the past, Winnie is finally free to date.
  • With the store a thing of the past, Winnie is finally free to date.

There wasn’t an empty seat in the house of worship as friends, well-wishers, and members of the family packed the Kensington Community Church to pay affectionate tribute to Kensington Video proprietors excelsior: Winnie, Rich, and Guy Hanford and Pam Hanford Sisneros.

The card shop turned video store tabernacle closed its doors on February 28 after 52 years in business, 31 years of which were spent perpetuating celluloid dreams, one plastic snap-case at a time.

The Kensington-Talmadge Community Associations’ Jan Wiley and husband Tom were the respective mastermind and host of the love-fest. The dinner menu began with cheese and chicken enchiladas, catered by Ponce’s, and concluded with dessert from Moosie’s. I was seated on the dais alongside the Hanford clan and Pam’s husband, Willie Sisneros, a perch that made me feel like part of the Royal Family. Saying goodbye doesn’t come easy, and while honored to participate, it was an event I was both thrilled to take part in and dreading with each passing day.

With the spirit of Toastmaster General Georgie Jessel to guide me, I took to the podium, speaking from the heart about people and a subject very dear to me. I was third on the bill, right after the invocation and a rousing Irish sing-a-long. Some of the other presenters included representatives of the Franklin School, the Planning Board, the Adams Ave. Business Association, and the Kensington Social and Athletic Club.

Curtis Sliwa? Here? What membership number was written on the green sticker glued to the back of his driver’s license? Donning my readers revealed that I would be (with joy and gladness) introducing the Garden Angels, who came bearing potted plants.

Kensington Video: A Tribute

False modesty be damned. I killed! Thanks to Cody Jones, the Hanford’s personal videographer, for capturing the moment.

The evening’s high honor was bestowed by Rep. Susan Davis, fresh from Washington, DC, and with framed parchment in hand. Though she claimed an aversion to public recitation from the Congressional Record, Ms. Davis was nonetheless justly compelled to bespeak the following:

“Mr. Speaker, on February 28, 2015, a San Diego institution closed its doors. After more than 30 years in business the curtain came down on Kensington Video. Kensington Video premiered in 1984 with Winnie and Rich Hanford and their children, Guy and Pam, rolling out the red carpet for its customers.

“Since then, their video library has grown to an astounding 70,000 titles — perhaps one of the largest in the country. Among the stacks of VHS, Beta, and DVDs, you could find not only the latest blockbusters but also that rare, special-interest film or foreign-language movie.

“Amazingly, they never computerized. They just knew where every film title was, like seasoned shopkeepers familiar with their stock. If the movie you wanted was not in their library, they would track it down for you. It was that commitment to film and their customers that had people coming from miles away to Kensington Video.

“Like a classic black and white movie, Kensington Video had the feel of a classic American small business. Customers came for the people behind the counter as much as they came for the films on the shelf. They came to rent a movie and also to get the latest news and gossip of what was happening in the neighborhood.

“I was a proud member of Kensington Video and just as proud of my low membership number — 74. In 1948, mystery writer Raymond Chandler, who was also a Hollywood screenwriter, wrote, ‘Not only is the motion picture an art, but it is the one entirely new art that has been evolved on this planet for hundreds of years.’ Kensington Video was the curator of that art for San Diego. I hope the House of Representatives will join me in recognizing and thanking Kensington Video for years of service to the neighborhood of Kensington and city of San Diego.”

The event was capped by a grateful surge of heartfelt thanks and remembrances from all four of the honorees. After the presentation, a near-speechless (notice I said “near”) Winnie looked at me through wet eyes and confided, “If someone had told me 52 years ago when we first opened our doors that people would one day throw a tribute in our honor, I never would have believed them.” My only regret is there aren’t a dozen more testimonials like this planned across the city.

Postscript to an era: Most folks who stood in line closing day looking to cash in on fire-sale bargains went home empty-handed. Of the 70,000 titles that once decked the house that Winnie built, 68,500 currently consume every inch of Guy’s home.

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