I was saddened to hear about the passing of Sam Sniderman on Sunday at the age of 92. Not unlike many other fellow music junkies living in the Toronto area, I always had a warm spot for his 40,000 square foot Sam The Record Man flagship store in the heart of the city's downtown at Yonge and Dundas. The store and its legendary signage featuring a couple of massive flashing neon LPs and those "Yes this is Sam The Record Man" greetings below them were always a welcome sight for a young kid from the suburbs who would travel on the bus and subway for a good 90 minutes every few months to get his media fix at Sam's, the next door A & A Records flagship store, and the nearby World's Biggest Bookstore. I also have fond memories of purchasing my first KISS records (and many others) at the Hillcrest Mall Sam's store in Richmond Hill, which was the closest music outlet to me. I had to spend a fair amount of time in the Yonge and Dundas area a couple of weeks ago during the Toronto International Film Festival and more than ever, walking around the area made me nostalgic. Much of that was brought on by going into the World's Biggest Bookstore for the first time in years and likely my last time ever, after I'd read a couple of months ago that it was closing soon. I must say that I'm not really a fan of the major facelift that the area has undergone over the past decade. Call me old fashioned or not progressive enough, but the Times Square-lite look of the intersection is just one more reason I'm now less inclined to make a trip downtown unless I absolutely have to.
"The Yonge Street Sam's", as it was known by some, seemed to have just about everything as far as selection and I remember a younger, more ignorant me bitterly wondering why so much floor space was devoted to those boring jazz and classical musical sections that I never stepped foot in. Certainly, a healthy chunk of my sizable CD collection was purchased there. It's a cliché, but the approachable and knowledgeable staff were another plus when one shopped at 347 Yonge Street and I fondly remember getting a kick out of seeing Sniderman at the front checkouts on a couple of occasions. Other visits included sightings of The Pursuit Of Happiness' Moe Berg, Kim Mitchell, White Zombie bassist Sean Yseult, Maple Leaf Gary Leeman, and a fairly low level Canadian actress who I witnessed having a minor meltdown at the cash register (I can't remember her name for the life of me, but I'd know the face and name as soon as I saw or heard it). The store had a definite throwback charm with its slightly shabby appearance, narrow aisles, numerous bargain bins, and floors that squeaked and I swear were uneven in places. These rustic qualities simply aren't part of the equation when you're shopping in the antiseptic environment of music stores like HMV (which seem to be getting harder to find) and...well, I guess that's almost about it now in Canada, isn't it? I think there's still a few Sunrise Music stores around, but I'm not really aware of any locations aside from the flagship store across from the old Sam's. I actually probably bought more CDs from there than any other retail outlet because of their awesome membership card that let you get your tenth purchase free, based on the average amount spent on your previous nine purchases. Let me tell you, I exploited that offer to the hilt, spending around $150 a visit. It took me awhile to rack up those nine transactions, but that tenth visit when I knew I'd be walking out of there with 8-10 new CDs for nothing was probably the highlight of my month.
Sam The Record Man couldn't survive the damage done to brick and mortar music retail by illegal downloading and the iTunes store, filing for bankruptcy in 2001 and eventually struggling to keep the flagship store open until 2007 (I was amazed to find out there's a lone Sam's store still operating in Belleville, Ontario). The old sign was put in storage after the flagship Sam's store property was purchased by Ryerson University and there are currently plans to resurrect it for display somewhere on the Ryerson campus. Sniderman lived a full life and earned numerous accolades, including the highly prestigious Order of Canada. After reading a lot of the tributes that have been pouring in, it's clear that he touched a lot of people's lives and I always appreciated that he truly identified and "got" the passionate music fan...because he was a passionate music fan. Sniderman certainly made being one of them in the Toronto area a more pleasant experience.
Some information taken from this article on TheStar.com