Sam the Record Man was located at 347 Yonge St (at Gould St on the northeast corner) in downtown Toronto. With its iconic sign, it was a must-visit store for everyone who loved music.
How It All Began
In 1937, Sam Sniderman began selling records from his family’s business, Sniderman’s Radio Sales & Service Ltd, at 714 College St. In 1959, the shop moved to 259 Yonge St, and two years later, the music store made a move to its historic location at 347 Yonge St.
Sam the Record Man
The shop was a huge attraction for both music lovers and musicians. It was on a strip of Yonge St that was home to other music stores like A&A Records, Sunrise and Music World, as well as the Eaton Centre.
The store had a vast selection, and Sam and his staff were very knowledgeable. No song was too obscure. Customers could go into the shop and mention a few words of a song or hum a few bars, and the staff would know it. There were no apps around then, just excellent customer service.
People would line up in the middle of the night for album releases. Their annual Boxing Day sale drew crowds from Toronto and beyond.
The Perfect Fit
This strip of Yonge Street was also lined with popular entertainment venues like the Colonial Tavern, Friar’s Tavern, Le Coq d’Or and Steele’s Tavern. Sam the Record Man was a perfect match in the area.
Mr Sniderman promoted many Canadian musicians like Gordon Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell, The Guess Who and Stompin’ Tom Connors, to name a few. He would also put music from new Canadian talent in prime locations of the store to give them the spotlight.
The Most Iconic Symbol of Yonge Street
That incredible sign. The Markle Brothers designed the neon, spinning record in 1969/1970. Standing 7.5 m wide and 8 m high, it replaced a neon sign that indicated weather conditions. When the shop next door closed, once Steele’s Tavern and later Thrifty’s, Sam took it over. In 1987, the second spinning disc was added along with the word “SAM” above each sign.
The flagship Yonge St store grew to take over the northeast corner of Yonge and Gould Sts.
Closing the Legendary Store
In its heyday, there were over 140 locations across the country. The big box stores and the rise in popularity of downloadable songs meant the demand for CDs, albums and such was declining. Unable to compete, the Toronto landmark closed at the end of June 2007. There’s still one Sam the Record Man shop in Belleville.
The Brilliant Neon Signs Shine Again
In 2008, Ryerson University purchased the property and agreed to restore and re-install the signs. The twin neon spinning record signs are once again lighting up the area. They’re located high atop a building at 277 Victoria St, overlooking Yonge-Dundas Square.
Did You Know?
- In 1961, Sam Sniderman paid $140,000 for the building at 347 Yonge St.
- During his lifetime, Sam Sniderman received many awards and honours, including the Order of Canada (1976), an honorary doctorate (Doctor of Commerce) from Ryerson University (1997) and a Governor General’s Performing Arts Award (1999).
- The company filed for bankruptcy in 2001. The store closed briefly and reopened in 2002 with Sam’s two sons operating the new business.
- During its last days, Sam’s held a memorabilia auction. Some items sold included a neon marquee, signed pictures, platinum records and autographed drywall (by Bruce Springsteen and ZZ Top).
- Sam passed away in 2012 at the age of 92.
- In 1984, Robert (Bobby) Sniderman, Sam’s son, purchased one of Toronto’s legacy restaurants, The Senator. Located at 249 Victoria St, the restaurant has been operating since the late 1920s, originally opening as Busy Bee Lunch. The Senator is a 1940’s-style diner with classic comfort dishes and also features its own beautiful neon sign.
Sam the Record Man Photos
- Toronto Star Newspaper Archives: May 30, 2007, page A1, A10
- Toronto Star Newspaper Archives: Jun 30, 2007, page E1, E10
- Nicholas Jennings: Toronto Songs: Gordon Lightfoot’s on Yonge Street
- Ryerson University: Sam the Record Man Sign returns to the heart of downtown Toronto
- Heritage Toronto: Good Eats: The Senator Restaurant
- Vintage Photos: City of Toronto Archives, Toronto Public Library, Barry Roden & Peter MacCallum