Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Landmarks from My Youth

Back in the 60s and 70s I spent a good deal of my time, and salary, at Sam The Record Man's. Not one of the many franchise stores that suddenly popped up in suburban malls but at the Mother House in downtown Toronto - Yonge just above Dundas. The Yonge strip from Queen up to College was a pretty mixed area - strip clubs, bars, cheap souvenir shops, at least one blue cinema, few good restaurants - Diana Sweets where the waitresses wore white handkerchiefs pinned to their black uniforms - and some where merely looking at the menu in the window could subject you to botulism.
Sam the Record Man - daytime
It was gaudy, slightly bawdy and neon lit with one sign dominating it all and telling you that "Yes, this is Sam the Record Man." Sam's was four floors, but at least 6 levels, of records, records and more records. My friend Alan worked in their classical department and if Alan said "buy it you'll like it" I did. He was seldom wrong and his legions of customers knew that. I remember one occasion when Alan was fired or quit or possibly quit before he was fired. After a week Sam Sniderman (yes there was a Sam and he's still a moving force in the Canadian Music Industry) called him up, things were patched up and Alan returned to work. Sam knew a great salesman when he had one.

I moved away from Toronto in 1978 so I'm not sure when Sam's started to decline. Perhaps when Sam gave up control, maybe with the advent of those suburban stores or the appearance of the mega record stores, but certainly with the general downturn in the music industry and Internet downloads. After a series of bankruptcies and changes the store finally closed in June of 2007.
Sam the Record Man - night
The property was sold to Ryerson University and the store sat empty for a year, the twin discs no longer spinning over Yonge St. But two weeks ago, as part of Toronto's Nuit Blanche, they lit up for one last time and spun as they had since the late 60s.

It must have been a lovely sight.

And this from a press release by Ryerson University:
Ryerson is committed to preserving the legacy of Sam the Record Man and the iconic sign for the city and people of Toronto. On October 6 removal of the famous sign will begin. Following the construction of the new Student Learning Centre, the sign will be remounted and displayed in a new permanent home on the Ryerson campus.

21 ottobre - San Gaspare del Bufalo


sageweb said...

Bummer..but they are sorta Gaudy. After a while they should have become landmarks though.

evilganome said...

We have lost most of the signage that was iconic here in Boston. The big Coca-Cola sign that used to dominate Memorial Drive, the White Fuel sign. The only one left is the Citgo sign over Kenmore, which is okay but was far from the best of them in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

Great photos! A visit to Sam's was an adventure for a small town girl.
I'm glad the signs will be displayed. Now for the Gardens...

Sling said...

What with the emergence of CD's,mp3's,and the like,vinyl just went the way of the Dodo...I feel your pain.
Happily,the neon signs will be preserved!

Elizabeth said...

I remember spending so much time in Record Stores.... But as Sling said, they've mostly all gone the way of the dodo. And the cassette tape.
And the eight-track tape. And my figure.

It is lovely that they're preserving those great neon signs, though.

Speck said...

I remember hanging out in the little record store in my hometown; MadCat Records. It was the place to see and be seen. It had "mod" wallpaper and a neat kitty cat on the shopping bags.

Hubby and I still have a vinyl collection, probably about 200 records or so. Tough to find a market for them now.

I'm glad they're preserving the Sam's sign to keep a little bit of history alive.

Sigh. Those were the good old days.