Sam the Record Man flagship store

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The flagship store on Yonge, in April 2005.

The Sam the Record Man flagship store was opened in 1961 by Sam Sniderman at 347 Yonge Street, Toronto, Canada. It was the second Sam's store to be on Yonge Street, as its precursor store was at 219 Yonge Street from 1959, until the 347 location opened in late 1961.[1] It was the best known store in the Sam the Record Man chain of 140 locations across Canada, two blocks away from the Eaton Centre and Dundas Square. Sam's became a popular attraction, drawing people into its selection of records, and later cassettes and compact disks (CDs). It flourished in the Downtown Toronto area, quickly gaining notoriety and out-selling the competition. What started as a single storefront had evolved into an entire block completely dedicated to the Sam the Record Man store. For several years, the store went into head-to-head competition with the popular A&A Records flagship store, just up the street, before the latter declared bankruptcy in 1993. The building was demolished over a period of two years, from 2009 until 2011. As of 2014, it is part of the site on which the Ryerson University's Student Learning Centre is being built. The fate of its iconic sign is still to be determined. The sign was designated an historical landmark and Ryerson does not plan to incorporate it into the new student centre building.

The sign[edit]

Store without the sign next to Steeles Tavern

With Sam the Record Man growing rapidly, the business added the first of two spinning records that would later become its trademark. The first record, added at 347 Yonge Street, was designed by the Markle Brothers in 1969-70; it was 7.5 metres wide and 8 metres tall. The second sign was added in 1987, just north of the original, at 349 Yonge Street (former Steeles Tavern Restaurant). It was designed by Claude Neon Inc. In that same year, the letters spelling out "SAM" were added above the records (it took 550 light bulbs to light up the two SAM signs), as was the lower signage that read "Yes this is SAM the Record Man". The insert in the middle of the records reading "That's Entertainment" was also added at this time.[2]

Store expansion[edit]

1960s[edit]

A third floor was built onto the back portion of the original 347 Yonge Street store sometime in the 1960s and a basement stockroom excavated. It served as the Third Floor Bargain Basement for many years before becoming the first video department for the store. Concert tickets were sold there for a time as well.[3]

An additional property was purchased several stores to the north (371 and 375 Yonge?) which became Sam the Tape Man (formats open reel, 4 track, 8 track, and cassette) with Sam the Chinese Food Man upstairs. When Sam found out that his favourite Chinese restaurant was being demolished to make way for the new Toronto City Hall, Sam offered the restaurant the upstairs of his Sam the Tape Man store as a new location. It served as the venue for many flagship store, franchise, and record industry functions over the years. In the early 1970s, Sam the Tape Man was relocated to the 347 Yonge store and the space rented to an adult bookstore. The restaurant was eventually closed and the building sold and fully renovated into two Asian restaurants.[3]

1970s[edit]

The parking lot behind the adjoining Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC) at Yonge & Gould St. was purchased in the early 1970s and an annex built which housed the classical department and later added the tape department (now only cassettes and 8-tracks), when it was incorporated back into the 347 location. CIBC restricted the height of the annex building to slightly below the height of the bank building, which prevented the addition of a second story, though a low ceiling mezzanine was included for use as a stock area.[3]

1980s[edit]

The Steeles' Tavern property (349 Yonge Street) was acquired in the early 1980s, however the ground floor was rented out to a stereo equipment store. After cutting access doorways through the walls to the existing store, the second floor became the CD department and a greatly reduced-in-size Bargain Basement. Eventually the ground floor and basement of 349 Yonge Street were incorporated via doorways cut through the walls into the adjoining record store, with the 45s department moving to the back of 347 Yonge St. The ground floor of 349 Yonge became a greatly expanded CD department, the second floor became the video department, and a third floor was added to the back portion of the building to house the video rental library, staff lunch room, and new staff washrooms. The Bargain Basement was restored to the third floor of 349 Yonge Street. When CDs were incorporated into their respective departments, the video store was relocated to the ground floor of 349 Yonge Street.[3]

1990s[edit]

The chain branched out into computer software and games in the mid-1990s and a new department, Sam's Interactive, was created on the now-adjoined and renovated third floors to house it. It was later moved briefly to the ground floor, prior to the expansion of the store into the CIBC property.[3]

In 1991 the CIBC property (341, 343, and 345 Yonge Street) was purchased and the store was reconfigured yet again with the Pop/Rock department moving to the ground floor of the new property. New cashier stations were installed at the front of 347 Yonge where the pop/rock department had been. A two-stage plan of renovation/construction involving the CIBC building and the classical annex were drawn up but only the first stage of the reconstruction was completed. The renovations comprised the creation of doorways from the CIBC building into the classical annex, the addition of stairs and a mezzanine which became the new location for Sam's Interactive. When the interactive department was closed it became the Nexx Level, which comprised the relocated R&B/Soul/Rap/Electronic department. The Jazz department was moved to the second floor of 349 Yonge St. and the Pop Vocal and Instrumental departments moved to the second floor where jazz had been. Massive outdoor video screens were installed by an advertising firm on the (rented) lower portions of the roof of the former CIBC building. Extensive neon signage, including a replica of the original neon sign for Sniderman Radio Sales & Service - was installed in the former CIBC building. The third floor was turned into offices and fulfillment area when the store expanded to online sales.[3]

2000s[edit]

Major renovations followed the re-consolidation of the company after bankruptcy (January 2002). Much of this work was redecoration of the sales areas in terms of painting, lighting, flooring, and the inclusion of vintage fixtures such as a bar with mirrors, wood-and-glass display cabinet, and a barber shop counter/mirror. Classical was moved to the newly renovated ground floor of 349 Yonge Street and the Jazz, Blues, & Folk department was temporarily moved back to the second floor of 349 Yonge St. while redecorating took place, then moved back when the renovations were completed. The former classical annex was transformed into a new DVD department, complete with a chandeliers, theatrical spot lights, drapes, popcorn machine, 5.1 sound system, video monitors, neon sign, and theater marquee. A small stage was also added for in-store performances. Renovations were also done on the ground floor of 347 Yonge, primarily the addition of a magazine section and a new cashier desk. The Pop/Rock Department and Nexx Level were also renovated. The former parkette (Hensall Place) and chess tables on Gould Street were made over and incorporated into a café added to the Pop/Rock department. At one point limited menu food service was provided by Lick's hamburger chain.[3]

Notable customers[edit]

Sam Sniderman was known as a friend to people starting out in the Canadian music industry, and helped jumpstart the careers of the likes of Anne Murray, Rush, Gordon Lightfoot and The Guess Who, who were all known to appear at the store from time to time.[4]

Bankruptcy and change of ownership[edit]

When the Sam the Record Man chain was forced into bankruptcy in 2001, Sniderman's sons Jason and Robert "Bobby" took over the flagship store. The two men kept the store running until announcing on May 29, 2007 that the store would close permanently on June 30 of that same year, citing the impact of technology on record sales as the determining factor of the closure.

Site[edit]

After Sam's closed at the end of June 2007, it left only two remaining Sam the Record Man stores operating privately, one in Sarnia (which has since closed) and one in Belleville that is still in operation. The site at 347 Yonge Street was valuable piece of property and was purchased by Ryerson University in early 2008. The site sat vacant for several months before the spinning records were lit again at Nuit Blanche on October 4, 2008, although Ryerson owned the building at the time.[5] About a year after the lighting of the records at Nuit Blanche, demolition of the structure began. The building was demolished in early 2010.[6] Construction is still in progress as of September 2012.

Future of the sign[edit]

There was a lot of pressure for Ryerson to preserve the neon signs and Ryerson complied, meticulously taking the records apart and placing them safely in storage. The original plan was that the records would be put up again once Ryerson's new building was complete; however, Ryerson admitted in late September 2012 that it would not be adding the records to the building once construction is completed.[7]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Bradburn, Jamie (2012-09-25). "Vintage Toronto Ads: Selling Sam the Record Man". Torontoist. Toronto: Ink Truck Media. Archived from the original on 2012-10-12. 
  2. ^ "The Sign". Ryerson University Library. Retrieved 29 September 2012. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Harrison, Frederick, "Recounted by Frederick Harrison, former Sam the Record Man store employee 1981-2007."  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  4. ^ "Record Man: The Life & Times of Sam Sniderman". Dreamstreet Pictures. Retrieved 29 September 2012. 
  5. ^ "Historic Sam the Record Man sign lights for the last time.". Youtube. Retrieved 29 September 2012. 
  6. ^ "Ryerson leaps forward on Sam the Record Man site". Spacing Toronto. Retrieved 29 September 2012. 
  7. ^ "Iconic Sam the Record Man sign won't reappear on Yonge Street". CBC. Retrieved 29 September 2012. 

Coordinates: 43°39′27″N 79°22′53″W / 43.6576°N 79.3813°W / 43.6576; -79.3813