Renaissance Records provides Birmingham with vinyl revival

Cameron Gray – Features Writer |

Tucked away from the epicenter of Five Points South lies an unassuming storefront clad in curtains and steel bars. The sign reads “Renaissance Records,” but what you will find inside is so much more.

Sophomore econ, finance and french triple major Walt Trussell peruses Renaissance’s selection of records. Photo by Jenna Adams

Stacked on homemade shelves in no particular order are used books, hand-me-down movies, and records. From the moment you step in the door, the chaos absorbs you into a world of remembrance of what used to be.

At the helm is Gary Bourgeois, and alongside him is his wife, Shirley. Bourgeois opened Renaissance in 2003, but he was by no means new to the music scene. Renaissance is one of only two record stores in Birmingham- the other, Charlemagne Records, is only a block away. Interestingly enough, Bourgeois opened Charlemagne in 1977 alongside Marian McKay after being inspired by the boutique record stores on a post-graduation trip to Europe. However, after 20 years at Charlemagne, Bourgeois decided to pursue another dream. “It was a great experience,” he said, “but my dream from the very beginning, even before I had the idea of working in a small shop, before I even went to Europe, was studying English.” Bouegeois is now a professor of English at Miles College.

After all those years, Bourgeois couldn’t put the fire out. The shop’s namesake is a statement in and of itself of Bourgeois’ reemergence as a shop owner and music lover. “I was kind of getting back into being in a small shop in the community again,” says Bourgeois, “It was like starting over, like a rebirth.”

For almost 10 years, Renaissance Records has been a vital part of the Birmingham community as a mecca for vinyl collectors. As vinyl records make a comeback, Bourgeois is seeing an influx of customers, young and old.

Though records will never sell as well as they did in the 1970’s, there has been a significant increase in the sales of vinyl. Vinyl album sales reached 3.9 million units in the U.S in 2011, a 40% increase from 2010, according to Nielson Soundscan. Bourgeois explains why people are rediscovering vinyl, “I think that people rediscovered their parents’ record collections and they might have broken out their parents’ old record players. They started spinning the old records and started noticing the sound quality is totally different, the analog sound and the vibrations that come from it. It’s a totally different experience.” It is this romantic idea that is attracting younger generations to playing records. Sam Douglas, a 20-year-old Sophomore, has swapped his CD’s for Vinyl. “CDs and mp3s feel impersonal,” Douglas says, “Vinyl gives us a sense of history and give the music a sense of personality.”

A record player accompanied by records sits in Renaissance Records. Photo by Jenna Adams

Listening to a record is an experience indeed, but it takes more than a listening experience to keep people coming back to a small shop selling what has remained a dead medium for decades. “It’s always a real challenge,” Says Bourgeois, “you have the Internet, you have all this digital and mp3s, but by having books and movies, it’s kind of like the store is more than the merchandise, there’s kind of a spirit about the whole idea.”

When people enter Renaissance Records, Bourgeois wants visitors to feel like they are stepping back in time. Like an art museum, Renaissance houses a medium that takes you back in time and immerses you in a moment of nostalgia.  “Music brings back a lot of memories,” says Bourgeois. “It’s kind of like an escape, and I think it’s important to have that quality.”

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