Charlie Birnbaum is a piano virtuoso and the major piano tuner in Atlantic City. He owns a three-story walk-up apartment building near the new Revel Casino and within sight of the ocean and Atlantic City’s famed Boardwalk. Charlie, with help from his son and son-in-law, has personally maintained and refurbished the entire building, hanging new sheetrock and repairing brickwork by hand. He rents the second- and third-floor apartments to long-term elderly tenants at below-market rates.
Charlie’s emotional ties to the property run deep; it has been a symbol of hope and survival in his family for decades. Charlie’s parents—Holocaust survivors who met hiding in the forests of Poland during World War II—purchased the building as their primary residence in 1969 when they moved to Atlantic City. Their time as partisans in Poland made them—and, by connection, Charlie—uniquely sensitive to the importance of having “their own space.” When Hurricane Gloria hit Atlantic City in 1985, Charlie’s father—already elderly—refused to leave the building, telling Charlie that if he left he’d have nothing to come back to. Charlie’s parents lived in the building continuously until his father passed away in 1987.
After that, Charlie’s mother continued to live in the building, first on her own and later with a home health aide, until they were both tragically murdered there in the late 1990s. But Charlie refuses to let one moment of tragedy overshadow decades of family history and the predominantly joyful memories attached to that beloved family home. The building stands as a reminder to Charlie of his parents and the time he and his family shared there together. Charlie firmly believes that the building—and, specifically, his ability to keep his parents in their own home instead of in a nursing home—prolonged both of his parents’ lives.
But the home is more than just a reminder: Charlie will tell you it is now prolonging his life as well. Charlie has developed a serious but non-life-threatening autoimmune condition that requires him to rest frequently. The only thing that has allowed him to continue working is the fact that his parents’ home gives him a central location near the casinos he services which he can use as a piano studio and home base for his successful piano-tuning business. Without this convenient home base in Atlantic City, Charlie would be physically unable to continue tuning pianos. The building is literally the only thing that keeps Charlie working—and Charlie believes that work is the only thing keeping him healthy.