A & A Books, Records & Tapes – A Piece of Yonge St History

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1967 – A & A Books & Records at 351 Yonge St was located between Bob'O's Joyland Arcade Hamburgers and Steele's Tavern. Eventually, A & A's would take over the building that housed Bob'O's
1967 – A & A Books & Records at 351 Yonge St was located between Bob’O’s Joyland Arcade Hamburgers and Steele’s Tavern. Eventually, A & A’s would take over the building that housed Bob’O’s (Toronto Public Library RA35-2)

A & A Books & Records, later known as A & A Records & Tapes, was once located at 351 Yonge St (between Gould St and Gerrard St, on the east side) in the Downtown Yonge area of Toronto.

Early History of A & A’s

In 1945, Alice Reingwertz Kenner launched A & A Book Store with the help of her brother Aaron. Alice was born in Poland in 1912. When she was about ten years old, she came to Toronto with her mother and sister to join her older siblings. Alice worked at her brother’s variety store at 353 Yonge St. The store also housed one of the larger post offices in the city, and Alice became the postmistress.

In 1937, she met Mackenzie “Mac” Kenner, and the couple were married within months. After Alice’s brother’s sudden passing in 1944, she rented a storefront at 355½ Yonge St and established her own books and sundries shop. Within a year, 351 Yonge St was put up for sale, and with assistance from one of her brothers named Aaron, Alice and her family purchased the building and opened A & A Book Store.

Mac wanted to sell records, but when major companies refused to supply them, he invested in $100 worth of what was then known as “race records”—music made for and by African Americans. The music, later rebranded as “rhythm and blues,” sold out completely within a week. As a result, the couple decided to turn their bookstore into A & A Book Store & Record Bar, and eventually into A & A Books & Records by the late 1960s.

Friendly Competition

1980s - The photo, taken from Elm St, captures the shops along Yonge St. Three records stores on this stretch of Yonge St included Sam the Record Man, A & A Records & Tapes, and the white building next to A & A's was home to Peter Dunn’s Vinyl Museum. The car parked in the foreground is a Citroën SM
1980s – The photo, taken from Elm St, captures the shops along Yonge St, including A & A Records & Tapes and Sam the Record Man (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 1465, File 20, Item 23)

A & A’s was just two doors up from Sam the Record Man. According to Sam Sniderman, there was friendly competition between the two stores for years. A & A’s boasted the largest record inventory, while Sam’s held the title for the largest store devoted exclusively to records. Both stores constantly tried to outdo each other by cutting prices and sending spies to check out each other’s stores.

A & A’s, open from 7 a.m. to 1 a.m. daily and Sundays from 10 a.m. to midnight, sold not only records and books but also candy, cigarettes, and magazines. Interestingly, A & A’s sold more classical records and rhythm and blues, while Sam’s catered more to popular records for teenagers. By the early 1970s, A & A’s had taken over a portion of the neighbouring building at 353 Yonge St.

A Funny Story

American jazz composer and pianist David Burbeck walked into A & A’s. A salesperson recognized Mr Burbeck and immediately put on one of his records, playing it through the store’s P.A. system. Mac Kenner yelled, “Take that thing off and put on something commercial!” Turning up his coat collar, David Burbeck shuddered until Mac called him by name and told him he was just kidding around.

Alice & Mac Sell A & A’s

In 1971, Alice and Mac decided to retire and sold their store to CBS (Columbia Broadcasting System) for an undisclosed amount.

Over the next two decades, A & A’s changed hands a few times and transformed into the largest music retail chain in Canada. It would become known as A & A’s Record & Tapes, and its impressive growth culminated in a network of 269 stores, commanding a remarkable market share of 27% in the country. However, its ambitious expansion led to financial difficulties, and the company filed for bankruptcy in 1991. A & A’s was saved, but despite attempts to downsize, the company declared bankruptcy again less than two years later.

The End of an Era

Between 1986 and 1992 – Yonge St between Gould St and Gerrard St, notice Thrifty’s Clothing, A & A Records & Tapes, Le Chateau (the building is shown for rent), The Great Chocolate Chip Cookie Machine and Falafel Burger. A & A's closed in 1993
Between 1986 and 1992 – Yonge St between Gould St and Gerrard St, notice Thrifty’s Clothing, A & A Records & Tapes, Le Chateau, The Great Chocolate Chip Cookie Machine and Falafel Burger (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 618, Item 33)

When A & A’s closed in 1993, about 115 stores remained nationwide. Other music retailers, including Music World, absorbed many of the outlets. The flagship Yonge St store, with its impressive three floors and 16,000 square feet of retail space, was not acquired by any other company. The building was vacated and later became home to Future Shop.

In 2007, Ryerson University acquired a parcel of land spanning from 345 to 353 Yonge St, a location that previously housed various businesses, including the iconic A & A’s and Sam the Record Man. Over the next couple of years, the buildings were gradually dismantled, and in 2015, Ryerson University (today Toronto Metropolitan University) opened its Student Learning Centre at the site.

A Word About Alice & Mac Kenner

After the couple sold their store at 351 Yonge St to CBS in 1971, they continued to work there for another three months. The couple’s passion for books never faded, and they continued selling them at farmers’ markets. Even after Mac passed away in 1988, Alice continued her love for books and sold them from her retirement home. She passed away in 2009 at the age of 97. Alice’s daughter June said of her mother, “She exemplified the Canadian dream.”

A & A Records Photos

October 16, 1952 – Looking east from Elm St towards Yonge St in downtown Toronto. Notice A & A Book Store in the distance on the right. It was founded by Alice Reingwertz Kenner with the help of her brother Aaron
October 16, 1952 – Looking east from Elm St towards Yonge St in downtown Toronto. Notice A & A Book Store in the distance on the right. It was founded by Alice Reingwertz Kenner with the help of her brother Aaron (City of Toronto Archives, Series 372, Sub Series 58, Item 2379)
1967 – A & A Books & Records at 351 Yonge St was located between Bob'O's Joyland Arcade Hamburgers and Steele's Tavern. Eventually, A & A's would take over the Bob'O's portion of the neighbouring building
1967 – A & A Books & Records at 351 Yonge St was located between Bob’O’s Joyland Arcade Hamburgers and Steele’s Tavern. Eventually, A & A’s would take over the Bob’O’s portion of the neighbouring building (Toronto Public Library RA35-2)
June 23, 1971 – Looking east from Elm St and Yonge St towards 2by4 Posters, H. Toben & Sons Jewellers (later the building was home to Vinyl Museum), A & A Books & Records, Steele’s Tavern and Sam the Record Man. Notice in this photo A & A's had expanded, taking over half of the neighbouring building at 353 Yonge St
June 23, 1971 – Looking east from Elm St and Yonge St towards 2by4 Posters, H. Toben & Sons Jewellers (later the building was home to Vinyl Museum), A & A Books & Records, Steele’s Tavern and Sam the Record Man. Notice in this photo A & A’s had expanded, taking over half of the neighbouring building at 353 Yonge St (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1526, File 3, Item 26)
August 17, 1971 – Looking east from Elm St towards the Yonge Street pedestrian mall. The event took place from August 13 to 20 and was located between Dundas St and Gerrard St. A Dickie Dee Ice Cream vendor, A & A Books & Records and Steele’s Tavern is visible in the photo. It was in 1971 that Alice and Mac Kenner sold A & A's to CBS
August 17, 1971 – Looking east from Elm St towards the Yonge Street pedestrian mall. The event took place from August 13 to 20 and was located between Dundas St and Gerrard St. A Dickie Dee Ice Cream vendor, A & A Books & Records and Steele’s Tavern is visible in the photo. It was in 1971 that Alice and Mac Kenner sold A & A’s to CBS (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 5, Item 13)
August 17, 1971 – A crowd enjoying the Yonge Street pedestrian mall. The photo shows a portion of Sam the Record Man, Steele’s Tavern, A & A Books & Records, other shops and the Zanzibar Tavern
August 17, 1971 – A crowd enjoying the Yonge Street pedestrian mall. The photo shows a portion of Sam the Record Man, Steele’s Tavern, A & A Books & Records, other shops and the Zanzibar Tavern (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 5, Item 5)
Between 1977 and 1983 – Looking east towards the Vinyl Museum and A & A Records & Tapes on Yonge St, opposite Elm St in Toronto. A & A's began as a bookstore in 1945, founded by Alice Reingwertz Kenner and her brother Aaron. At the height of its business, A & A's had a network of 269 stores across the country
Between 1977 and 1983 – Looking east towards the Vinyl Museum and A & A Records & Tapes on Yonge St, opposite Elm St in Toronto. A & A’s began as a bookstore in 1945, founded by Alice Reingwertz Kenner and her brother Aaron. At the height of its business, A & A’s had a network of 269 stores across the country (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 609, Item 7)
Between 1977 and 1993 – Looking east from Elm St towards Yonge St. Visible in left foreground on Elm St is Millwheel Records & Sheet Music while in the distance on Yonge St is the T-Shirt & Classic Ts Factory, A & A Records & Tapes, Thrifty’s Clothing, and you can see a part of Sam the Record Man
Between 1977 and 1993 – Looking east from Elm St towards Yonge St. Visible in left foreground on Elm St is Millwheel Records & Sheet Music while in the distance on Yonge St is the T-Shirt & Classic Ts Factory, A & A Records & Tapes, Thrifty’s Clothing, and you can see a part of Sam the Record Man (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 615, Item 19)
Between 1978 and 1980 – Looking southeast on Elm St towards Yonge St in downtown Toronto. Notice A & A's on Yonge St and Barberian's Steak House, which has been in operation since 1959 and still exists today, in the right foreground
Between 1978 and 1980 – Looking southeast on Elm St towards Yonge St in downtown Toronto. Notice A & A’s on Yonge St and Barberian’s Steak House, which has been in operation since 1959 and still exists today, in the right foreground (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 307, Item 13)
1980s - The photo, taken from Elm St, captures the shops along Yonge St. Three records stores on this stretch of Yonge St included Sam the Record Man, A & A Records & Tapes, and the white building next to A & A's was home to Peter Dunn’s Vinyl Museum. The car parked in the foreground is a Citroën SM
1980s – The photo, taken from Elm St, captures the shops along Yonge St. Three records stores on this stretch of Yonge St included Sam the Record Man, A & A Records & Tapes, and the white building next to A & A’s was home to Peter Dunn’s Vinyl Museum. The car parked in the foreground is a Citroën SM (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 1465, File 20, Item 23)
2023 – Looking east from Elm St towards Yonge St in the Downtown Yonge area of Toronto. The east side of Yonge St, opposite Elm St, was once home to shops like A & A Records & Tapes and Sam the Record Man. This parcel of land was purchased in 2007 by Ryerson University, and the old buildings were slowly dismantled. Today, the northeast corner of Yonge St and Gould St is the site of the Toronto Metropolitan University Student Learning Centre
2023 – Looking east from Elm St towards Yonge St in the Downtown Yonge area of Toronto. The east side of Yonge St, opposite Elm St, was once home to shops like A & A Records & Tapes and Sam the Record Man. This parcel of land was purchased in 2007 by Ryerson University, and the old buildings were slowly dismantled. Today, the northeast corner of Yonge St and Gould St is the site of the Toronto Metropolitan University Student Learning Centre
1980s - Looking east from Elm St towards Yonge St in Toronto. The photo shows Falafel Burger, The Great Chocolate Chip Cookie Machine, T-Shirt & Classic Ts Factory and A & A Records & Tapes in the distance on Yonge St
1980s – Looking east from Elm St towards Yonge St in Toronto. The photo shows Falafel Burger, The Great Chocolate Chip Cookie Machine, T-Shirt & Classic Ts Factory and A & A Records & Tapes in the distance on Yonge St (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 1465, File 20, Item 15)
2023 – Looking east on Elm St towards Yonge St in Toronto's Downtown Yonge area. A & A's once stood on the east side of Yonge St, opposite Elm St, where the Toronto Metropolitan University Student Learning Centre stands today
2023 – Looking east on Elm St towards Yonge St in Toronto’s Downtown Yonge area. A & A’s once stood on the east side of Yonge St, opposite Elm St, where the Toronto Metropolitan University Student Learning Centre stands today
1980s - Looking southeast on Elm St towards Yonge St. The photo shows Old Angelo's Restaurant in the right foreground and A & A Records & Tapes in the distance
1980s – Looking southeast on Elm St towards Yonge St. The photo shows Old Angelo’s Restaurant in the right foreground and A & A Records & Tapes in the distance (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 1465, File 443, Item 7)
1982 – An aerial view looking southeast on Yonge St from just north of Elm St. Notice from left to right, Peter Dunn's Vinyl Museum, A & A Records & Taoes, Thrifty's, Sam the Record Man, CIBC and Music World, in the old Edison Hotel building. For years, there was a friendly competition between A & A's and Sam the Record Man, each constantly trying to outdo the other by cutting prices
1982 – An aerial view looking southeast on Yonge St from just north of Elm St. Notice from left to right, Peter Dunn’s Vinyl Museum, A & A Records & Taoes, Thrifty’s, Sam the Record Man, CIBC and Music World, in the old Edison Hotel building. For years, there was a friendly competition between A & A’s and Sam the Record Man, each constantly trying to outdo the other by cutting prices (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 620, Item 574)
Between 1986 and 1992 – Yonge St between Gould St and Gerrard St, notice Thrifty’s Clothing, A & A Records & Tapes, Le Chateau, The Great Chocolate Chip Cookie Machine and Falafel Burger. A & A's closed in 1993
Between 1986 and 1992 – Yonge St between Gould St and Gerrard St, notice Thrifty’s Clothing, A & A Records & Tapes, Le Chateau, The Great Chocolate Chip Cookie Machine and Falafel Burger. A & A’s closed in 1993 (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 618, Item 33)
September 2007 - Looking southeast from Elm St towards Yonge St. The building Future Shop is in was previously home to A & A Records & Tapes
September 2007 – Looking southeast from Elm St towards Yonge St. The building Future Shop is in was previously home to A & A Records & Tapes (Google Maps)
July 2009 - Demolition of buildings that were once home to A & A Records & Tapes and Sam the Record Man on Yonge St, opposite Elm St. Today, Toronto Metropolitan University Student Learning Centre is located at the site
July 2009 – Demolition of buildings that were once home to A & A Records & Tapes and Sam the Record Man on Yonge St, opposite Elm St. Today, Toronto Metropolitan University Student Learning Centre is located at the site (Google Maps)
1951 - The Toronto City Directory showing the address and phone number of A & A Book Store
1951 – The Toronto City Directory showing the address and phone number of A & A Book Store (Toronto Public Library)
1976 – The Toronto Yellow Pages showing an ad for A&A Records & Tapes
1976 – The Toronto Yellow Pages showing an ad for A&A Records & Tapes (Toronto Public Library)
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