Sarasota’s long-standing independent video store and local gathering place, Video Renaissance, known for its eclectic catalogue and staff expertise, will close shop after 33 years in business.
Bill Wooldridge opened up its first incarnation as “Cult Video” in 1985, then located on Siesta Key, with around 200 titles available to rent. It was at one time just a small personal collection, born out of a desire to watch and pass around movies that were otherwise inaccessible—chain stores offered only a small number of foreign films, and rarely carried any films considered too obscure, unconventional or inappropriate to turn a short-term profit. This collection grew along with Video Renaissance’s following, and according to Wooldridge, it eventually peaked at around 50,000 available titles.
While I was in the store, Norman, a long-time patron—he had worked next door to the shop on Siesta Key back in 1985—stopped by with some moving boxes and chocolate almonds for Wooldridge. They talked for awhile, and he asked about a few Noir films that Wooldridge had recommended before. When I came up to the counter, Norman greeted me, and I told him I went to New College.
They both spoke fondly of New College, which for a few decades had intimate ties to the video store. Throughout the late 1980s and into the early 2000s, students from New College regularly came in to get recommendations from the clerks, and had conversations with other locals that weren’t students. The beginnings of the store marked a younger and more affordable Siesta Key, one that, on occasion, smelled of marijuana and soon-to-be-prohibited fertilizers. It was a meeting place, where people could come to rent a movie and run into someone they hadn’t seen in a few weeks. Traditionally “high” and “low” forms of art were given little distinction among one another: Vin Diesel could be found to share the same shelf as Tarkovsky, and one could get some laundry done next door to the Bee Ridge location while they looked for a Bulgarian “Titanic.”
Many regulars, and even the employees, assumed that the store would be closed by the mid-2000s, as Netflix began to take over the industry with the inception of its streaming services in 2007. Blockbusters and independent video stores alike quickly went under over the years, but Video Renaissance remained a cultural fixture, supported by a loyal customer base.
It wasn’t until the end of 2016, and early 2017, that there was a significant drop in business, though Wooldridge remembered an especially crowded Friday night around that time in November, as large groups of people congregated in the store and discussed the recent results of the 2016 election. Some left soon after receiving their rentals, but many stuck around that night to talk amongst themselves.
Video Renaissance will shut its doors for good by the end of September.
“Talking to and meeting all of the people, seeing how kids were thinking about the world over the years—I’ll miss that,” Wooldridge said. “But it’s time to close.”
An outpouring of community support followed news of the store’s closure. Two Pine View School alumni, Damien Bythrow and Nathan J. Robinson, started a GoFundMe with the intentions of purchasing much of Bill’s film collection wholesale for donation to various public libraries in Sarasota, including the Jane Bancroft Cook Library, as opposed to the collection being sold in pieces to individuals. Many of the films that the campaign is concerned with would otherwise be lost and inaccessible to the Sarasota public if they were no longer available locally. The GoFundMe is currently nearing a quarter of its fundraising goal.
Information about donating to the GoFundMe can be found at https://www.gofundme.com/save-video-renaissance-film-archive