Story and photos by Leah Jane Henderson
It’s not easy to find a great record store with classic albums or one-of-a-kind finds.
Whether it’s a 33 r.p.m., a 45 or an 8-track, Renaissance Records in Five Points South is a haven for music lovers and collectors alike.
The store specializes in vintage records but has a modest number of new artists and albums. New and used books, CDs, records, and movies are also sold for great prices, as well as posters and art.
Gary Bourgeois (pronounced Boo-schwah) is the middleman between music and the ears of listeners, bringing great taste in records and a love for his store. An English professor at Miles College, Gary finds the time to run his store in the afternoons and weekends.
When you first step through the door, you’ll hear the jangling of a worn doorknob, vintage records crackling over speakers and the rugged sound of vinyl, old French ballads, Jim Morrison’s crooning voice, or Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. Red walls are plastered with psychedelic album art and classic movie posters, autographs and postcards.
A glossy, gold phonograph sits on one of many bookshelves filled with cassette tapes and jaded, valuable magazines. String lights cloak the huge front window, accompanied by soft, worn-in couches and glowing lamps on piles of thick, musty books. These are the sights and sounds of visiting one of the oldest record stores in Birmingham.
Ambition was running through Gary’s veins in 2003 when he decided to open Renaissance Records located at 2020 11th Ave. South.
“This used to be a bookstore kind of an alternative, new age bookstore. I used to work at Charlemagne (Records) back in the older days and then I started teaching in 2000 at Miles. But after a few years I missed working at Charlemagne and thought this was the perfect place and remodeled it and now we have a little of everything.”
He got the idea to open while visiting Europe after his French professor in college encouraged him to go to France.
“That’s where I came up with the idea. In France they have all these shops, and in London and Amsterdam, there are all these cool shops like coffee shops, offbeat shops, bookstores, record stores, everything. That’s when it clicked in my mind, this is perfect, I’m going to make it happen.”
Bourgeois’ favorite part about running the store is meeting people, “There’s a social element when you work in a record store. Of course, I love trading records, it’s really fun and I love playing records. When you put a record on it sounds so great. it sounds 10 times better. But you get to meet all these people.”
Many people visit the store, from a handful of locals who come in every week to browse and catch up on conversation, to musicians and bands, to complete strangers whose fingers itch for the feeling of slick vinyl, to feel the spiral grooves of a 45.
“In an urban city and area like this you’ve got crazies that come through and really eccentric characters, a real mix with collegestudents, older collectors, younger collectors, and families. It’s like a soap opera. You’ve got the regulars and the skateboard kids coming down, and we’ve even had the guy from KISS, Gene Simmons, standing in here. Who knows who you’re going to meet? From one day to the next, you have no clue.”
He compares his job to the film High Fidelity starring John Cusack, “It’s a must-read and a must-see film. John Cusack is like me, trying to pay the bills, which is my least favorite thing to do. It’s the greatest book and movie. Actually that’s our training manual. Whenever someone wants to work here we make them take the VHS or DVD and watch it, and after they’ve watched it we say okay, now you might be ready.”