Sam the Record Man

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". Its iconic flagship store was located at 259 Yonge Street in 1959 and moved to 347 Yonge Street two years later, remaining there from 1961 until it closed in 2007. Located at Yonge just north of Dundas, the store became part of a strip of music stores, nightclubs and taverns featuring live performance that produced the "Toronto Sound" and was the centre of Toronto's music scene in the 1960s. read more!



The genius that was Sam the Record Man

By PETER GODDARD Special to the Star
Fri., Sept. 28, 2012 source: The Star Newspaper

Sam Sniderman created a retail record sales empire. Part of his success was knowing where music and culture were going and planning for it.  



Tributes to Sam Sniderman the irrepressible force behind the Sam the Record Man stores were never too heartfelt for those who knew him, as I did to a degree, and cared for him, as I did deeply, in ways I still don’t understand. Not surprisingly, multiple images of Sam Sniderman emerged in the media coverage following his death last Sunday, at age 92. There were portraits of Sam, salesman extraordinaire; Sam, Canadian culture champion; Sam, the Anne Murray booster and Gordon Lightfoot mentor; and Sam, Sam, the Cardboard Cutout Man.

Sam Sniderman created a retail record sales empire. Part of h's success was knowing where music and culture were going and planning for it. What was missing, in my opinion, was getting the measure of the man’s genius one that created a retail record sales empire worth $80 million by the late ’80s, with some 137 franchise operations booming across the country and five stores in the West Edmonton Mall alone. His brilliance was about knowing the future before it happened. Much like Wayne Gretzky’s genius was in knowing where the puck was going, Sam knew where music and culture were going. He was given credit for his self-marketing skills. But too little attention was paid to his cultural awareness, which made those skills work. Yes, Sam charmed — but he also planned.

sam the record man

(c) photo credit the Sniderman Family

Plan A: Plan big.

In moving the family business from College Street where older brother Sid had established Sniderman Radio Sales and Service in 1929 to Yonge Street in the 1950s, Sam knew he was in sync with the great mid-20th century cultural shift, where outsider culture emerged as the new mainstream. Ghetto blues and hillbilly white honky tonk mingled indiscriminately in the ’50s to define popular culture to this day. A deeper current ran through this thinking, though. In moving from Kensington Market to downtown, Sam Sniderman went from being on the outside to becoming the maitre d’ of Yonge Street, glad-handing everyone through the doors of the iconic store.

“Do you realize that for a kid like me, growing up outside the city but crazy about music, Sam may have been the first Jewish person we ever met,”

says Larry LeBlanc, the veteran Canadian music industry journalist.


Plan B: Stay true to your self.

“Ethnic music” was the mainstay of the College Street store, Sam told me some months ago in his apartment, in between complaints about how his gimpy knees might hurt his tennis game. Sam’s downtown felt like a bazaar, noisy, open late, never neat and always expanding. The top two of its three floors were crammed with recordings that weren’t available anywhere else except the remote village in Bulgaria where they were recorded.

Bottom line: Sam the Record Man became the city’s first multicultural showplace, the harbinger of the vast ethnic mash-up that would later define Toronto at its best. The store’s sheer size and sprawl some analysts estimated it occupied more space than any record store in North America also made the Sniderman business the darling of the international record trade, which knew Sam’s could always find a place for their products. And when one of these obscure labels spawned an international star, guess who got the first shipment of records?

Plan C: Think national.

In championing Canadian content before it became broadcasting law in 1971, Sam was helping to give a formal, political context to popular culture’s nationwide presence. A record store became more than a place to sell records. It was a place with cultural clout. And a guy selling records could call up the prime minister. He had political clout. Sam was named to the Order of Canada in 1976. Celebrating Canadian content didn’t hurt his campaign to brand archrival A&A Records at 351 Yonge St., just steps from Sam’s downtown at 347 Yonge St. as being in the clutches of “foreign” operatives, an accusation made all the easier when the American CBS Records bought A&A. Sam’s Canadiana also helped ward off the California-based Tower Records from its expressed interest in acquiring Sam the Record Man.

Plan D: Be national.

In having its far-flung franchise empire get its product from a single, Sam’s-run supplier in Toronto, Sam Sniderman understood that a recording was its own bundle of communications controlled at the home base. In his way the Sam the Record Man franchise operations paved the way for Rogers and today’s other communications megabrands.

Ah, but Sam was a lot more fun.

Credit: Freelance writer Peter Goddard is a former music critic for the Star.