By now, all those in the Toronto area have heard the (depending on where you feel from) terrible news that the long-standing Yonge Street fixture of neon and Canadianism, Sam The Record Man, will be closing at the end of June due to ongoing financial crises not limited to just online shopping.
I'll take my chances being off topic here but as a music nut who loves movies, I have to affix the same emotions to this building as those who knew so well all the way-gone cinemas of Toronto's yesterday. Trips downtown from out-of-town and just downtown when living there were always, at some point, moved to the confines of the store as well as Cheapies, which we hit through high school because they had the best prices. Back when local townie Dave Holden worked at Sam's on Saturdays (free tickets to the Dead Milkmen!) and the walls and ceiling were covered with the autographs and 8 X 10s of the famous and briefly known. The original skinny store (before the sideways growth) and the chief competition (A & A) right next door with an equally cool frontage. Those were the days, my friend. Gavin and I could hop down, grab a cocktail, do a quick Lenny and Squiggy to passing treats and I could get some records at either, although I sometimes favoured the latter due to Nadine giving me staff prices. Apart from the other lesser sellers on the strip, you could hit Sam's and A & A and Record Peddler (Carlton or Yonge...even Queen East, if you hustled) all within a good forty-five minutes to an hour or so of shopping on foot! And that included a brief jump into Flash Jack's as well! When I took the bus back and forth, it was always there for a casual pre or post-ride browse (and normally a buy) along with the World's Biggest Book Store. I even found some stuff there that was basically out of print but still in the bin. Hello Scott Walker's 'Climate Of Hunter' and the 'Cookie Puss' cd single! Also, I don't think there are many who carry and champion such items as Glenn Gould's Solitude Trilogy which I happily bought at Sam's in a well stocked Gould bin.
I watched the rapid growth of the compact disc via Sam's. The removal of the opening space of racks of vinyl and the bins. The difficulty in getting anything on record seemingly instant, although it did take a couple years, and my willingness to adapt and then my eventual return to my vinyl first love years later. And I guess I am partly to blame with my widening and more obscure tastes leading me away from downtown, commercial sellers and into the indies in the neighbourhoods where I troll and online where it was all ready to be shipped if you could beat/stand customs.
Sam Sniderman was a tireless supporter of Canadian artists and afforded them the luxury of being on display alongside the bigger and better selling international stars of any era, but especially in the 60s and 70s, I believe. For that reason alone, I was a stalwart supporter of the shop and would spend more on something at Sam's rather than buy at HMV in the same way that I tend to disregard big stores on any and all possible occasions and support the heart of retail instead. Plus, Sam's staff tended to be cooler. The hipsters worked elsewhere and some knowledge walked the floor at 347 Yonge. Don't get me wrong, there were good staff at other places too, but I was built-in ready to find fault there. He also had a large part in helping develop Canadian Content regulations but this is a tough one to champion, depending on your feelings. Yes, it gets Canadian artists on the radio and helps stem the tide of American cultural smothering but it also tends to help those that help bigger companies make money and that is why I change the station when I hear another goddamned Guess Who song or whatever and rarely got to listen to the Rheostatics or Change Of Heart or any similarly minded bands of today on commerical radio although CFNY was as close as we could get back in the early days of Brampton. The oldies format and CanCon does have it's payoffs in the Poppy Family, Rush and Pagliaro though.
With my ever-growing deposits of sickly sentimentalism on board, I am not looking forward to my final walk in and out of the store and the removal of it's sign (cliche, I know but a big deal here) from the strip that I disregard so much these days. It is going to be very, very sad for the music lover in me who always left that shop happy whether armed with records or not. How could you not?