Sam the Record Man – Once Yonge Street’s Music Store Mecca

1971 - Sam the Record Man at 347 Yonge St
1971 – Sam the Record Man at 347 Yonge St (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 3, Item 25)

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 the 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 the 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.

Not only did the store have a vast selection, but Sam and the 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 great 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.

1978/80 - Sam's and Thrifty's on Yonge St, looking southeast from Elm St
1978/80 – Sam’s and Thrifty’s on Yonge St, looking southeast from Elm St (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 307, Item 12)

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 neon, spinning record was designed by the Markle Brothers 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 rise in popularity of downloadable songs meant the demand for CD’s, albums and such was on the decline. 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

2019 - Sam the Record Man signs on a building at 277 Victoria St
2019 – Sam the Record Man signs on a building at 277 Victoria St

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 it’s last days, Sam’s held a memorabilia auction. Some of the 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, purchase one of Toronto legacy restaurants, The Senator. Located at 249 Victoria St, the restaurant has been in operation since the late 1920’s, 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

1971 - Sam the Record Man at 347 Yonge St
1971 – Sam the Record Man at 347 Yonge St (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 3, Item 25)
2019 - Sam the Record Man signs on a building at 277 Victoria St
2019 – Sam the Record Man signs on a building at 277 Victoria St
1985/90 - Stompin' Tom Connors and Sam Sniderman
1985/90 – Stompin’ Tom Connors and Sam Sniderman (Photo courtesy of © Barry Roden)
1978/80 - Sam's and Thrifty's on Yonge St, looking southeast from Elm St
1978/80 – Sam’s and Thrifty’s on Yonge St, looking southeast from Elm St (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 307, Item 12)
Sam the Record Man shopping bags and memorabilia displayed at the Friar's Music Museum
Sam the Record Man shopping bags and memorabilia displayed at the Friar’s Music Museum
1970/72 - Steele's Tavern and Sam the Record Man at Yonge & Gould Sts
1970/72 – Steele’s Tavern and Sam the Record Man at Yonge & Gould Sts (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 312, Item 51)
1980's - Sam's on Gould St, looking northeast from Yonge St
1980’s – Sam’s on Gould St, looking northeast from Yonge St (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 19, Item 9)
1990's - An aerial view of Yonge St between Gerrard E & Gould Sts, looking east
1990’s – An aerial view of Yonge St between Gerrard E & Gould Sts, looking east (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 48, Item 1)
1967 - Sam the Record Man and Steele's Tavern on Yonge St
1967 – Sam the Record Man and Steele’s Tavern on Yonge St (Toronto Public Library RA35-1)
Sam the Record Man recording tape, photo and memorabilia displayed at the Friar's Music Museum
Sam the Record Man recording tape, photo and memorabilia displayed at the Friar’s Music Museum
1978/80 - A&A Records, Sam the Record Man and Music World on Yonge St, looking northeast toward Gould St
1978/80 – A&A Records, Sam the Record Man and Music World on Yonge St, looking northeast toward Gould St (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 306, Item 1)
2021 - Sam the Record Man signs and TTC streetcar at Dundas E & Victoria Sts
2021 – Sam the Record Man signs and TTC streetcar at Dundas E & Victoria Sts
1960's - Bing Crosby record display at Sam's
1960’s – Bing Crosby record display at Sam’s (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 503)
Sam the Record Man/Stompin' Tom Connors decal displayed at the Friar's Music Museum
Sam the Record Man/Stompin’ Tom Connors decal displayed at the Friar’s Music Museum
1980's - A&A's, Thrifty's and Sam's on Yonge St, looking southeast from Elm St
1980’s – A&A’s, Thrifty’s and Sam’s on Yonge St, looking southeast from Elm St (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 20, Item 23)
1970/72 - Yonge & Gould Sts, looking north
1970/72 – Yonge & Gould Sts, looking north (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 312, Item 61)
1980's - Sam the Tape Man, Fran's and Funland from Gould St, looking west towards Yonge St
1980’s – Sam the Tape Man, Fran’s and Funland from Gould St, looking west towards Yonge St (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 19, Item 28)
1983/92 - An aerial view of Gould St, looking northwest towards Yonge St
1983/92 – An aerial view of Gould St, looking northwest towards Yonge St (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 396, Item 1)
Sam the Record Man employee name tag displayed at the Friar's Music Museum
Sam the Record Man employee name tag displayed at the Friar’s Music Museum
1991 - Zanzibar Tavern, A&A's and Sam's on Yonge St, looking southeast
1991 – Zanzibar Tavern, A&A’s and Sam’s on Yonge St, looking southeast (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 124, File 3, ID 197)
1979/81 - CIBC, Sam's and A&A's on Yonge St, looking northeast towards Gould St
1979/81 – CIBC, Sam’s and A&A’s on Yonge St, looking northeast towards Gould St (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 614, Item 26)
2021 - The property Sam the Record Man once occupied at Yonge & Gould Sts, is now home to the Ryerson University Student Learning Centre
2021 – The property Sam the Record Man once occupied at Yonge & Gould Sts, is now home to the Ryerson University Student Learning Centre
The Yonge Street Strip map displayed at the Friar's Music Museum
The Yonge Street Strip map displayed at the Friar’s Music Museum
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