Charlemagne Record Exchange is closing after 42 years. Visit this Birmingham legend before Dec 31

Charlemagne Record Exchange
Eager customers flip through the record stacks at Charlemagne. Photo via Nathan Watson for Bham Now

By now, you’ve most likely heard the news–after 42 years, Charlemagne Record Exchange is closing their doors. However, there is still time to experience the magic of Birmingham’s oldest record store. Create a lasting memory by visiting Charlemagne Record Exchange before December 31.

The Soul of Southside

Charlemagne's been in the heart of Southside since 1977.
Charlemagne has been at its current location almost since the beginning. Photo via Sharron Swain for Bham Now

Since 1977, Charlemagne Record Exchange has been a record-collector’s dream in Five-Points South.

The journey to music-heaven begins at the steps of the time-worn staircase. As you make your way up the staircase you see dozens of posters for local concerts, and staples indicating the thousands of posters that had been there before.

Inside the record exchange, the wooden floors creak as you make your way through the sections of different genres–country, classics, jazz, punk, rock, blues and more.

Then you find a crate that interests you. You flip through vinyl records, just as hundreds before you have done. Finally, you find a record that you want. And just like that, you’re hooked.

Meet the Woman Behind Charlemagne

Marian McKay Rosato of Charlemagne Record Exchange, holding an expensive item from the store.
Marian McKay Rosato holding an LP of Cream live at the Royal Albert Hall. Photo via Sharron Swain for Bham Now

“This has been my life for 42 years, and it’s been a wonderful life. I’ve met so many people and been introduced some of the great musicians in town. It’s been an honor to have been able to be here this long.”

Marian McKay Rosato, owner of Charlemagne Record Exchange

Charlemagne Record Exchange started with five crates of albums and $500.

In 1977, Marian McKay Rosato, along with her partner at the time Gary Bourgeois and her brother Mike McKay, pooled their resources together and started Charlemagne Record Exchange.

Exchanging records was a new concept for Birmingham. Charlemagne was the first place where you could trade or buy used records. In an era before instantaneous music streaming, the idea of trading music was a game-changer.

Since 1977, Charlemagne has remained relatively unchanged. Sure, they started trading cassette tapes, CDs, VHS tapes and more, but the underlying concept stayed the same. And that was the charm. Browsing through the endless record stacks at Charlemagne felt like stepping back to an era of bell-bottom jeans and more.

Lasting Memories of Charlemagne Record Exchange

Charlemagne Record Exchange
Customers finding all the treasures in Charlemagne. Photo via Nathan Watson for Bham Now

With thousands of guests passing through Charlemagne Records throughout the years, there are an untold number of memories of the record shop. I asked around on Facebook for people’s favorite memories, and here’s what I heard:

“It was an inspiration to visit the place and I always looked forward to walking up the creaky stairs and into a little music and culture oasis.”

Bernard Wolfe

“I loved going in to Charlemagne Records never knowing what I might find in the racks. It’s the complete old school record store experience. The Staircase is literally a ‘Stairway to Heaven’ for record collectors! The smell of old records welcomes you and there’s always a great selection of music playing which opens up the exploration of back catalogs of bands you’d not heard of before. You just can’t get that experience buying online.”

Jon Eastwood

“Walking up those narrow, deeply grooved steps, knowing that a little bit of heaven was at the top.”

Craig Sanderson

Celebrate the Final Days of Charlemagne Record Exchange With Discounts

Charlemagne Record Exchange
Newly arrived records in Charlemagne. Photo via Nathan Watson for Bham Now

“I understand that people want a little piece of Charlemagne to take with them.”

Marian McKay Rosato

From now until they close on December 31st, Charlemagne is offering a 50% discount on ALL used merchandise. In addition to vinyl records, Charlemagne carries 45s, CDs, cassette tapes, VHS tapes, books and more.

Additionally, new merchandise has deep discounts. Finally, all of the decor, iconic posters and more that lined the walls for 42 years is up for sale.

It has been a wonderful 42 years. Thank you for the memories, Charlemagne. Birmingham will miss you.

Share your favorite memories of Charlemagne Record Exchange by tagging @bhamnow.

Nathan Watson
Nathan Watson

Senior Content Producer with Bham Now | Originally from Tennessee, Nathan moved to The Magic City after graduating from Birmingham-Southern College. Nathan is passionate about recognizing Birmingham's history and is thrilled to learn more about the big things planned for The Magic City's future.

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