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.
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.
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