The year was 1984 and Sheila Burch had been commuting from Pacifica to San Francisco for four years. She and her husband, Dave, decided it was time to simplify things and open a business in town.
The couple knew they wanted to open a video store, but what to call it?
They owned a nickelodeon, which Sheila describes as a piano that has bells and whistles and drums inside of it. You put a nickel in and it plays a song. Small theatres of the early 20th Century were also called nickelodeons and so the name Nickelodeon seemed proper.
A year after the store opening, they moved to San Carlos, where Dave owned a house. Half the inventory was moved to a store in San Carlos and the other half was left in Pacifica. Sheila and Dave had kept their nickelodeon piano at the Pacifica store along with other collectibles for many years.
When demand for more video selections grew, however, they found it easier to operate solely in Pacifica. The San Carlos shop was closed and Pacifica became the one and only home of Nickelodeon.
Sheila was born and raised on another coast—Hawaii—and some of that tradition is apparent in the store.
“Everybody says, and I’m sure you’ll agree, when you come in, there’s always a bit of Aloha spirit here,” she said.
In Hawaii, Sheila worked at the governor’s office for fifteen years and danced hula professionally for the hotels and city.
“I loved it,” she said, “but there was something missing.”
In 1978, she accepted a job as a communication specialist in Guam and had to pass a rigid physical exam. An only child, her family was totally against the move, but she had her heart set on exploring the world.
The doctors informed her she had a heart murmur, however, and would not clear her for a work pass.
Sheila’s “whole world was crushed,” she said.
Later, under medical advice and with the family’s blessing, Sheila made plans to live in San Francisco. Arrangements were made for her to meet regularly with a cardiologist and to live with family friends.
Before leaving for San Francisco, family and friends had told her she would have to be more assertive. This posed a challenge for Sheila.
“In Hawaii,” she said, “we’re very humble people and I thought to myself, ‘I don’t know how to do that.’”
One week after arriving in San Francisco, however, she figured it out.
She had been interviewed for a job with American Express, but the process was taking a lot longer than she was used to.
By the third meeting she demanded to know “How many people do I have to meet? You either want me after the first interview or not. I do want this job but I have to get on with other interviews.”
After about five minutes, the decision-makers came out and told her they’d like her to take the job. Sheila cried out of joy and relief.
Once she had a job locked in, Sheila decided to move into her own apartment in Daly City and found a Latter Day Saints’ ward to attend. Sheila was introduced to Dave by his stepmother, a member of this particular ward.
In 1980, after a whirlwind romance, Sheila called home to let her family know her wedding would be held in Hawaii.
“Twenty-four years and you couldn’t find anyone over here but you go away and in 10 months you’re coming home to get married,” was a friend’s reaction to the news, Sheila said.
The couple blended traditional Hawaiian and church customs for their wedding.
“Because I had been a professional hula dancer, I had my hula brothers and sisters right there to perform for my wedding on Tantalus,” Sheila said.
Since she knew it would be a little tough on Dave’s side of the family, who were from the states, she made sure there were some familiar items of American cuisine on the menu.
While they were honeymooning in Hawaii, Sheila took Dave to the Bishop Museum to “show him Hawaiiana, you know, Hawaiian artifacts.”
He went to purchase a guidebook and Sheila said, “You don’t need that, I know where to go.” It was then he pointed to page 340 of the guidebook and said, “This looks like somebody I know.”
On that page, Sheila was pictured during preparation for the King Kamehameha parade, when she was a lead hula dancer.
A year later, a customer at American Express came in and said, “When we went to Hawaii, we saw this guidebook and is that you in it?”
After finding out it was in fact her, they brought it back to be autographed.
Hawaiian music still keeps Sheila moving.
“What would usually take me a few hours, takes only a half hour if I put Hawaiian music on. It’s what gives me comfort,” she said. She once performed with many of the groups she listens to regularly. Brother Iz , a renowned Hawaiian singer-songwriter who passed away in 1997, was one of her favorite musicians.
“There’s nothing like Pacifica.”
Over the years, Sheila and Dave’s relatives in the area have either passed away or moved, so they consider their customers family.
They’ve seen singles turn into couples and couples turn into families. Children have grown up into adults and moved out of the area only to come back to visit and ask if Sheila remembers them, she said. Most times, she does.
“I’m very lucky to have a strong customer base despite not being open during the day,” said Sheila. Customers can call ahead and ask for a DVD to be put on same-day hold. Videos, however, aren’t the only thing that draws customers to her store.
Recently, a customer walked in carrying a ukulele wrapped in a blanket. She had been taking lessons and had borrowed a CD of ukulele music from Sheila, who had also played one as part of her hula performances.
After the customer looked at DVDs for some time, she very bashfully said, “I promised that after I mastered a song, I would come in and play for you but I can’t do it now. You have five people in the store.”
The customer’s daughter protested: “Mom, you promised me that when you came down to Sheila’s that you were going to show her that you learned one song and that you were going to sing.”
Out came the ukulele and the singing began.
“And then everybody started to come out from the aisles to sing,” Sheila said. “They really supported her and joined in. She was really proud that she did it. That was just beautiful.”
“Well, you won’t get this at Blockbuster,” another customer had said.
Although Sheila and Dave live in San Carlos, she spends most of her waking hours in her Pacifica store.
“It’s my home. There’s nothing like Pacifica.”
Nickelodeon is open from 4pm to 10pm every night except Friday and Saturday when the store opens at 3pm and closes at 11pm.
In addition to a growing DVD inventory (currently with 18,000 titles) the store carries approximately 28,000 VHS tapes.
There is never a shortage for something to rent and what they don’t have, they’ll find for you. All you need to do is ask.