Charlemagne Record Exchange, a fixture of Birmingham’s Southside, closing after 42 years

Local News

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Marian McKay Rosato, owner of Charlemagne’s Record Exchange, remembers a very different Five Points South than the one that exists today.

In the late 1970s, parts of the neighborhood were somewhat rundown and unsafe, Rosato said. But all the business owners knew one another, from the long-gone Little Bombers Lounge to Rosato’s Charlemagne Record Exchange, which has occupied the same spot on 11th Avenue South since 1977.

Today, the area is very different. Many corporate-run chain hotels, restaurants and shops occupy the spots once held by local businesses. With those changes came rising rent costs, something that damaged the longtime record store, especially over the last two years.

Rosato said that in the last two-year lease she signed, rent on the building increased another $250 per month in the first year and, by this year, had risen to an additional $400 per month.

“The rent was considerably higher,” Rosato said. “We thought about moving, but it was such an expense to move, and I didn’t know if I would have the energy.”

Rising rent, coupled with Rosato’s expensive health insurance and dwindling business—due to the new norm of more people get their music online than in shops—Rosato made a decision: it was time to close Charlemagne’s.

On Dec. 31, Charlemagne Record Exchange will close its doors after 42 years in Birmingham. The store, which houses over 5,000 albums in vinyl, CD and cassette formats, will sell everything at half price from now until the end of the month.

Looking back, Rosato said she loves how much the business has meant to people over the years, bringing in musicians like Tom Waits and Stevie Ray Vaughn over the years. In fact, it was because of the business that Rosato met her husband in 2000.

“I really liked that we were a place where people could come and barter goods or…sell their records,” Rosato said. “We could help people who were in need and in turn, we were able to find homes for these great records.”

Despite closing a major chapter in her life, Rosato is not angry about how her beloved record store will soon be joining the number of other music shops from across the country that have closed their doors over the years.

“Things change,” she said. “It’s just the pattern of what happens in the tapestry of one’s life.”

With no plans mapped out for the future, Rosato said she would love for people to come by the store the next few weeks.

“I just want them to come in, tell their stories and say goodbye,” she said.


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