After 33 years of collecting 50,000 movies, Bill Wooldridge, the owner of the Sarasota video rental store, Video Renaissance, has closed his doors. Wooldridge outlived the area’s last Blockbuster by half a decade, but eventually streaming video services (when’s the last time you used a DVD?) killed even his irreplaceable business.
He’s not bitter.
“The whole thing is changing, and I know how it is,” Wooldridge said as he stood behind the counter this week, surrounded by floor-to-ceiling stacks of videos while watching an obscure 1940s black-and-white film on the TV that sits on his checkout counter. “I accept it.”
But not all of his customers have accepted the inevitable. Since news of Wooldridge’s retirement, people have come to pay their respects and lament the passing of an era and a community icon. “I’ve seen a lot of people in the last few weeks,” he says. “Many of them had stopped [renting movies] and I hadn’t seen them in years because they are streaming everything. We did a lot of reminiscing.”
Now comes the question of what will happen to Wooldridge's impressive library of movies, many of which are rare or out of print and not available on Netflix and Amazon. Bill’s initial plan was to sell his stock to the highest bidder, breaking up his vast and eclectic collection.
But two fans, Nathan Robinson and Damien Bythrow, started a GoFundMe account, Save Video Renaissance Film Archive, to raise $40,000 to buy parts of Wooldridge’s unique collection and donate it to the Sarasota County public library system. If successful, the effort will keep Video Renaissance’s legacy intact and grant free access to anyone with a library card. (As of Thursday, the effort has raised over $7,000, so there’s still a way to go before the Sat., Sept. 22, deadline.)
Robinson and Bythrow have also planned a farewell celebration at the store, which takes place at 4 p.m. Sat., Sept. 22, at the store, 2243 Bee Ridge Road, Sarasota. Everyone is welcome. Hopefully, the crowd will celebrate that the fundraiser managed to preserve Woolridge’s rare and out-of-print films. But if not, you’ll have your chance to buy a movie you may never get another chance to see.