It’s not often a store or building closing causes people to talk about the end of an era. The first time it happened in Toronto, Eaton’s went bankrupt. Then Maple Leaf Gardens was consigned to hockey history. And now Sam the Record Man is shutting down its Yonge St. store where it’s been since 1961.The icon will lock its doors for the last time on June 30 th, ending a 70-year dynasty.
“This is not a sad story really. We’re really proud of what we’re done, our contributions to the community,” Bobby Sniderman reflects. “After almost a century, you can really sit back and say hey, we did a very, very good job. This is all very worthwhile.”
He’s one of the sons of Sam “The Record Man” Sniderman, who started selling records out of his brother’s store in 1937. The company grew by leaps and bounds over the decades to come, turning into a chain of 130 stores across Canada.
What happened to the place which has become known for its spinning neon records sign? CD sales have been on a steady decline since music listeners turned to Internet downloading for their tunes. According to Canadian stats, compact disc sales have dropped 35 percent in the first three months of 2007 alone.
The musical notes were on the wall more than half a decade ago. The company ran into financial trouble in 2001 and was forced to file for bankruptcy. It opened again in 2002 but between Internet music sales and the popularity of superstores like HMV, Sam’s just couldn’t stay afloat. “W e can’t compete with technology anymore, and the decision we made is a responsible one,” Bobby Sniderman insists.
Music fans were disappointed to hear about the closure, but all had happy memories of shopping at the store. “I have seen a whole bunch of live bands here, autograph signings. That’s sad, man. No!” exclaimed lifelong fan Reg Boudreau. “Oh geez, I remember lining up outside here at 2 o’clock in the morning once to get Loverboy tickets ages ago. It was great, oh, I can’t believe that.”
A younger fan, Shawn Bredon, agrees it’s unfortunate the unique store couldn’t compete with bigger chains. “Well, you know, it was a good place to buy records,” he recalls. “Like there is no other record store like it, right? To hear it’s shutting down, that’s really disappointing. Everywhere you go, you will find a Sunrise or an HMV. There is only one Sam’s. To hear that it’s shutting down, that really sucks.”
Sam’s was known for its extensive collection and a staff who could not only tell you where to find it but knew about the artists. “I’ve been working for Sam the Record Man since 1974,” reveals John Fillion. “Until the doors actually close, then I’ll have to say that’s when the era ends, you know what I mean?” But the end of that era could be a bonanza for music fans. The store has a huge inventory to get rid of in just a month. And it’s planning a blowout sale starting next week.
- Several Facebook groups have been set up to save the legendary Sam’s spinning records sign. To become a member, click here.
The 9 Things You Never Knew (Or Have Forgotten) About Sam The Record Man
-The original sign at the Yonge St. store didn’t consist of the spinning discs. Instead it displayed the store’s address (347), and a vertical light thermometer, similar to the one used on the Canada Life building.
-Only two Sam’s franchise stores remain – and neither are in Toronto. One is located in Sarnia, the other in Belleville. The last Sam’s to close was in Halifax back in February.
-Sam’s expanded quickly and eventually took over the business next door at 349 Yonge St. The name of the place it replaced? Steeles Tavern.
-Sam Sniderman became a Member of the Order of Canada in 1976 and was said to be instrumental in bringing out the Canadian content rules that mandate the playing of homegrown music on the radio. He also has a Juno for Special Achievement in the industry. Not bad for a man who dropped out of high school at 16.
-Among the record buyers who have browsed through Sam’s extensive offerings – members of Rush, Gordon Lightfoot, Ronnie Hawkins and Elton John.
-The iconic spinning record sign has appeared in countless movies, including David Cronenberg’s “Scanners” and the quintessentially Canuck flick “Goin’ Down The Road”. Cronenberg worked at Sam’s Yonge St. store when he was a teenager.
-The giant store seemed bigger when you were a kid. But it wasn’t small to begin with. The Yonge St. location covered 40,000 square feet and carried 400,000 titles in 2002.
-The record buying ritual for many consisted of checking out Sam’s, then going two doors down to A&A Records, its closest competitor, to compare prices. A&A shut down in the 1990s.