Sam the Record Man

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Sam the Record Man
Industry Record store
Fate Closed
Founded 1937
Defunct 2007 (one remaining former franchise store in Belleville, Ontario)
Headquarters Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Key people
Sidney Sniderman, Sam Sniderman, Jason Sniderman, Robert "Bobby" Sniderman, Lana Sniderman
Products Music

Sam the Record Man was a Canadian record store chain that, at one time, was Canada's largest music recording retailer. In 1982, its ads proclaimed that it had "140 locations, coast to coast".[1]

The Internet age, competition with the HMV chain and other factors, forced Sam the Record Man into bankruptcy on October 30, 2001, although its flagship location remained in business until June 30, 2007. One independent franchise store, in Belleville, Ontario, continues to bear the Sam the Record Man name.[2][3]


The chain was launched in 1937 by Sam Sniderman (d. September 23, 2012) and Sidney Sniderman, as a record department in his family's existing store, Sniderman Radio Sales & Service, at 714 College Street (now home to L Squared Salon) in Toronto.[2] In the late 1950s a second store was opened on Yonge Street. On Labour Day 1961, the new store moved north to its location at 347 Yonge Street where it became a Toronto landmark.[4] Eventually the original College Street location was closed. The flagship store of the competing A&A Records chain was located nearby at 351 Yonge Street. Steeles Tavern was between the two stores at 349 Yonge Street.

Iconic neon signs[edit]

Sam's famous neon signs at night, the 'record' on the right is the original store, with the record to the left on the former A&A Records store.

The Yonge Street location was always noted for its kitschy signage.[5] Its first neon signage included the store's address in large neon "347" numbers vertically aligned between two windows.[6] On the left side was a thermometer made from neon. On the far right was a neon multi-sectioned triangle similar to the one on top of the Canada Life Building, which indicated weather conditions depending on how it was blinking.[6] In the late 1960s, the iconic spinning record replaced the previous neon signs, with the second neon record being added in the mid 1980s. The buildings where the sign hung were two Second Empire structures (one building was formerly McDonald and Wilson Lighting store with the second floor bricked off to allow for the sign to be installed, the other was Steeles' Tavern, whose upstairs windows had been bricked off when the store became a women's fashion store (Le Chateau) following the closing of the restaurant.[7][8] Both buildings have since been demolished.

The flagship store in film and music[edit]

The double-disc neon sign is frequently visible in films shot in Toronto that use Yonge Street as a location. Recent examples include the 2008 film The Incredible Hulk, which features the signs prominently during the final battle sequences, and the CTV/CBS series Flashpoint, which is set in Toronto.

While the exterior of the buildings has been seen in the movies listed above, the interior has not. There exists a common misunderstanding that scenes from Donald Shebib's classic Canadian movie Goin' Down the Road were shot inside the store when they were, in fact, shot inside nearby rival A&A Records.[9] The flagship store is alluded to in the song "Brian Wilson" by Toronto-based band Barenaked Ladies; it is referred to as "the late night record shop".

For a brief time in the 1910s, 347 Yonge Street was the location of music publishers Chappell & Co, now Warner/Chappell Music.[10]

Building the chain[edit]

Los Lobos at Sam the Record Man

The flagship Sam the Record Man store was famous for its Boxing Day sales and often served as the location for newspaper and television reports on Boxing Day shopping. Shoppers would line up over many city blocks, in the cold, to get one-day-only specially discounted (20% - 25%) records, and eventually, as the technology changed, CDs, and videos. Prices for videotapes were discounted as high as 50%.[2]

The store was also known for its deep catalogue, eclectic selection of imported recordings, time specials, and ever-changing stock of deleted or cut out stock. Some of the walls bore autographs and photographs of various musicians and celebrities (among them Elton John, Iggy Pop, Bruce Springsteen, Liberace, Tony Bennett, Charles Aznavour) who had visited the store. There were in-store appearances (Radiohead, Meatloaf) and, in the later years, in-store performances by various musical artists (Gordon Lightfoot, Blue Rodeo, Daniel Lanois, Saga, Don Ross, Mojo Nixon and Skid Roper, Luka Bloom, Los Lobos). T-shirts and later a complete line of "Sam's Wear" were available for customers to purchase.[11]

The chain stores were early promoters of Canadian artists, because they prominently featured their work with in-store displays, and concerts. Well-known Canadian artists like Loreena McKennitt, Barenaked Ladies, k d lang, Cowboy Junkies, and Ron Sexsmith had their first recordings stocked or consigned at the Yonge Street flagship store, then later throughout the chain.[12] Sam Sniderman played a role in getting the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to implement Canadian content (Can-con) regulations for radio stations in the early 1970s. The move to Can-con allowed many Canadian musicians to gain a voice in their own country.[13] In addition to stocking (and later purchasing) the complete catalogue of the Canadian Talent Library broadcast music (see entries for Chad Allan, Jackie Mittoo, Vic Franklyn, Dr. Music, Peter Appleyard), the flagship store also received copies of every LP record released in Quebec, making it the best source for French Canadian recordings outside of the province of Quebec.[11]

In the late 1960s, Sniderman expanded the business with franchise and corporate stores in Toronto and elsewhere. The expanded business was called Roblan Distributors (named for Sam Sniderman's son Robert and Sid Sniderman's daughter Lana (d. August 2012)) and conducted business at the store level as Sam the Record Man. Some stores were not full franchises but used Roblan Distributors as their principal rack jobber and were known as RD 2000 stores. A warehouse to service the franchises and flagship store was established at 110 Bond Street incorporating the accounting and head offices which had previously been located at Yonge Street. It later moved to much larger facilities at 274 Church Street. This building was demolished and became a parking lot in the late 1990s after record companies agreed to direct ship orders to the franchise stores, thus rendering the need for a central warehouse redundant. (Previous to this the record companies would ship at no cost only to a few designated locations and that with a minimum order value.) The accounting, offices, and some warehousing facilities were moved back to 110 Bond Street, but closed when the chain filed for bankruptcy. Both properties were sold to Ryerson University along with the Yonge Street properties in January 2008.[11]

The chain subsequently expanded to 130 stores (including RD2000 stores) across Canada, before the recorded music and media business started to decline in the 1990s.[2] At one time, the chain was the leading music retailer in Canada.[14]

The chain published a free music magazine (Network) in the late 1980s. One of the features in the magazine was a picture of a commissioned work of art (painting, collage, sculpture) by a local artist (among them Mendelson Joe and Kurt Swinghammer) depicting the store or brand. Some of these graphics were displayed in light boxes installed throughout the store or as the graphics for "Sam's Wear".[11]

2001 bankruptcy[edit]

The last Sam the Record Man location, located in the Quinte Mall in Belleville, Ontario

In 2001, tough competition, narrow margins, and the availability of free music downloads from the Internet, forced the chain to declare bankruptcy.[13] Most of its 30 corporate-owned stores closed.[13] The Sniderman family was underwriting the chain's debt of $15 million for the previous five years and finally could not continue to lose money.[13] Under new management, Sam Sniderman's sons Jason and Bobby Sniderman reopened the Yonge Street store in 2002, along with 11 franchise stores outside of Toronto.[13] The franchise stores were not a part of the bankruptcy filing, but the corporate stores were. Eventually, all but one of the corporate stores closed. The last corporate store in Halifax, Nova Scotia was shut down on February 20, 2007.[15]

Yonge Street flagship store closes[edit]

On May 29, 2007, Jason and Bobby Sniderman announced that the iconic flagship store, on Toronto's Yonge and Gould Streets, would close permanently on June 30, 2007.[16] They stated that "their decision reflects the increasing impact of technology on the record industry."[16] There was also increasing pressure to rent out some of the property or sell it to Ryerson University.

On May 30, 2007, supporters started a Facebook group to save the store's neon spinning record signs titled "Save the Sam's Sign!!!"; the group, and its attached online petition, garnered more than 18,000 members.[17] On June 14, 2007, it was announced that the signage, and some of the fixtures and memorabilia from the store would be auctioned by Benaco Sales on June 27. The remaining stock had been greatly reduced to sell but was not sold at the auction sale.[18]

However, on June 22, 2007, the Toronto city council voted in favour of designating the entire property as a heritage site, protecting the entire building, including the landmark signs.[5] The entire building was designated because the Ontario Heritage Act has no provisions to protect store signs.[5]

The corner of Yonge & Gould St. as of 2012.

On January 18, 2008, Ryerson University acquired the property for future expansion of its nearby campus.[19] On October 4, 2008, the iconic neon signs were lit for the last time as part of Toronto's Nuit Blanche festivities. The removal of the signage commenced shortly after the final lighting, and by mid-March 2009 the building had been partially demolished.[8] The new Ryerson Student Learning Centre (SLC) opened on February 23, 2015 on the old Sam's site.

The closing of the flagship store left two Ontario-based franchise stores in operation, one in Sarnia and one in Belleville. The Sarnia store closed in 2009; the last remnants of the Sam the Record Man retail empire is now one former franchise store that remains open under the Sam The Record Man name in Belleville as an independent store.[2][20] [21]


  1. ^ "Sam The Record Man Advertisement". The Toronto Star. 1982-08-20. p. B3. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Black, Debra (2007-05-30). "Sam the Record Man finally signs off". The Toronto Star. p. A10. Archived from the original on 2012-09-25. Retrieved 2007-05-30. 
  3. ^
  4. ^ From a newspaper ad in the collection of Frederick Harrison, former store employee 1981-2007.
  5. ^ a b c Vincent, Donovan (2007-06-23). "Heritage designation saves signs from Sam's". The Toronto Star. p. A7. Archived from the original on 2012-09-25. Retrieved 2007-06-23. 
  6. ^ a b Simpson, Scott (Summer 1996). "Sam The Record Man - About That Neon". Cygnals Zine. 1 (8). Archived from the original on 2012-09-25. Retrieved 2005-05-30.  To see a facsimile of these signs, see the Cygnals story.
  7. ^ "Yonge Street Before Sam The Record Man". Photo of the Day. Toronto: 2009-03-10. Archived from the original on 2012-09-25. 
  8. ^ a b Micallef, Shawn (2009-03-11). "Sam the Record Man exposed". Spacing Toronto. Archived from the original on 2012-09-25. Retrieved 2009-07-17. 
  9. ^ Frederick Harrison, based on recollections of the layout of A&A Records in the early 1970s.
  10. ^ Address printed on sheet music from the collection of Frederick Harrison, former Sam's employee.
  11. ^ a b c d Recounted by Frederick Harrison, former Sam the Record Man store employee 1981-2007.
  12. ^ Recounted by Frederick Harrison, former Sam The Record Man store employee 1981-2007.
  13. ^ a b c d e CBC News Staff (2001-10-30). "'Sam the Record Man' files for bankruptcy". CBC News. Archived from the original on 2012-09-25. Retrieved 2007-05-30. 
  14. ^ GANDHI, UNNATI (2007-05-29). "Toronto's Sam the Record Man closing". National News. The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 2007-05-30. 
  15. ^ "Sam no longer the record man in Halifax". Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. 2007-02-20. Retrieved 2007-05-30. 
  16. ^ a b Canadian Press (2007-05-29). "Sam the Record Man to shut its Yonge St. doors". Entertainment section. The Toronto Star. Retrieved 2007-05-30. 
  17. ^ Seatle, Pam (2007-05-30). "Sam The Record Man's Flagship Store To Close After One Last Big Sale". Citytv. Retrieved 2007-05-31. 
  18. ^ Marlow, Iain (2007-06-15). "Sam's sign set to be sold". News section. The Toronto Star. Retrieved 2007-06-15. 
  19. ^ "Ryerson buys Sam the Record Man property". CBC News. Toronto. 2008-01-18. Archived from the original on 2012-09-25. Retrieved 2012-09-25. 
  20. ^ Pagliaro, Jennifer (2012-09-24). "Sam the Record Man sign in limbo". The Toronto Star. Toronto. Archived from the original on 2012-09-24. 
  21. ^

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 43°39′27″N 79°22′53″W / 43.657599°N 79.381253°W / 43.657599; -79.381253