The Magic in the Music

Marian McKay and Charlemagne’s unmistakable beat.

Photos by Beau Gustafson

It was a magical time of summer and music and youth. The summer of 1977 saw the birth of Charlemagne Record Exchange.

“The  summer of 1977 we opened at The Garage on 10th Terrace South,” says Marian McKay Rosato. “Shops filled the garages where Model T’s from the grand homes on Highland Avenue had been parked in the 1920s. It was standing room only if four people came in to shop. We started with five peach crates full of albums and $500.

“At night, as the sun was setting, musicians would play in the courtyard and then we would watch movies, lots of film noir and the classics. It was magic.”

That fall she moved the business to Five Points South, where it remains to this day with homespun store fixtures and hundreds of posters on the walls from concerts and album releases, the printed fountain of youth.

Originally the building was a grocery store in the downstairs portion and the owner’s apartment where the store is today. In the ’50s  and ’60s, it was Trails End, a late night bar that stayed open until 2 a.m., McKay says.

The store operates much the same as it always has, surviving the move to CDs and later streaming to remain at the heart of the musical life of the city. “Our inventory is down now that albums are so popular again. We are always looking for new albums and CDs. Albums are the way to go it’s just getting the good ones that is a challenge,” McKay says. A musician as well as a record store owner, McKay keeps music at the center of her life, and the 42-year-old store plays a major role in that. “My customers are always asking where I’m playing next and I always feel good about advertising all the local venues. Wherever there’s a spot on the wall it’s to advertise music.”

A fun store for serious music lovers and a curiosity for others, at its heart Charlemagne has its very own, unmistakable beat. 

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