Saturday, June 02, 2007

A requiem

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?

9 comments:

Jiangtou said...

Agree with you on this post. Sad times. Sams and Cheapies were both must hit spots on those trips from Kingston to Toronto. Another entry on the list of things that I used to love about Toronto, now gone...

tintarchive said...

It is very sad. I can't believe how much it bothers me. Cheapies had an awesome selection! And let's not forget Peter Dunn's Vinyl Museum on Yonge. I can't even remember where that was but it was in the area.

Shelagh said...

My dad told me the story once of a flight he was on once from Toronto to Vancouver I think, where he was sitting next to Sam Sniderman and another guy who just happened to be a musician with a record he made independently. The musician of course had no distribution, so Sam offered to sell it in his store. My dad couldn't remember the musician's name, so I have no idea if it was a success or not, but my dad said was a nice guy Sam was, and what it meant to this young musician to have that offer made when Sam hadn't even heard his music. I bought my first albums there, and plan on visiting to pick up some new ones before it closes.

Jesse said...

I had a circuit back then - Sam's and A&A's, the Vinyl Museum (a few doors north) and the old Vortex over on Dundas Street East (next to a dry cleaners whose owner had a Nana Mouskouri fixation - faded pictures of her all over the walls of his place).

Kliph said...

How about trying to come up with a list of movies that feature the building or the famous sign? I know there's a scene in Half-Baked that has the sign in view. Also, it's either the Sam's or the A&A Record store that was directly beside it that's featured in Goin' Down the Road. Any others?

tintarchive said...

Jesse - I forgot about the one on Dundas...just down past the Imperial Pub and stuff. And there was a jazz record shop there once too...or was it the same one only later?

Kliph - I was going to use a screen capture from Goin' Down The Road but there is no showing of the sign in the film and they go into A & A but I don't recall the upstairs at that place. They must have eventually closed it. Sam's Satie was upstairs at one time, I think, before the back/side area that house classical before DVD. And International and Country was upstairs.

Lola said...

Gosh! As kids my best friend Bernice and I used to do the Sam the Record Man/ Cheapies/ Vinyl Museum Circuit every Saturday afternoon, punctuated by all the second hand bookshops. It's sad; others say it's inevitable, but feelings rule in cases like these...Another fond memory is when my dad used to take my sister and I in our bronco and up and down Yonge street on a Friday night, the neon lights were, at age of ten my form of a high, and Sam's revolving discs were landmarks, not only physically, but mentally as well.

Jesse said...

Sam's is really depressing already - they've boxed up most of the catalogue material and are selling off all the deleted cds and leftover VHS tapes. The place is getting echo-ier and echo-ier.

tintarchive said...

Can't the city buy it up and take on its debt and such just to preserve it? C'mon Toronto! I hope Adam Sobolak will rally to the cause like he did for Chum and such or maybe he doesn't care. This is awful. I don't think I'll make it in until near the end of the month and I really hope I don't start crying. How awful. I just want to walk around once more and touch it. I have recurring dreams about record stores. They play a big part at the very core of me. This is unbearable.