By: Dick Nieuwendyk – mtltimes.ca
Before the digital age, the only place to get music was the record store. And at one time, the place to go to get music was Sam The Record Man. Sam Sniderman’s career in music started when he began selling records out of his brother Sid’s radio store, Sniderman Radio Sales and Service, in 1937 on College Street in Toronto. The story goes that Sam started selling records to impress Eleanor Koldofsky, a “cultured” young woman from a family living next door. It worked, and the couple – married for 42 years, grew wealthy, famous and had three sons.
In 1959 Sam opened his first store on Toronto’s Yonge Street, but moved it in 1961 to the 347 Yonge Street flagship store location. In 1969, he started franchising the store. The chain sub-sequently expanded to 137+ stores across the country, and became the largest music recording retailer in Canada. Jason Sniderman, who started working in his dad’s store as a seven-year-old and became the company’s vice-president in the eighties, said that “the idea was to have the chain spread as widely as possible across the country.” And it did: huge stores opened in cities such as Montreal, Vancouver, Halifax, Hamilton and Edmonton, and smaller ones opened everywhere. The chain stores were the early promoters of Canadian artists, because they prominently featured their work with in-store displays, and concerts. Artists like K.D. Lang, Barenaked Ladies, Cowboy Junkies, and Ron Sexsmith had their first recordings sold at the Yonge Street flagship store, then later throughout the chain. Sniderman helped kick-start the careers of many Canadian music greats, including The Guess Who, Gordon Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell, Anne Murray, and Rush.
Sam the Record Man stores were famous for their Boxing Day sales and often served as the location for television reports on Boxing Day shopping. Shoppers would line up over many city blocks, in the cold, to get one-day-only specially discounted records, and eventually, as the technology changed, CDs, and videos, discounted as high as 50%. After a long career Sam retired from the record store business in 2000.
Sam the Record Man declared bankruptcy in 2001. His famous property located on Yonge Street in Toronto, closed in 2007, followed by the corporate-owned stores and franchises outside Toronto. Today, one independent franchise store, in Belleville, Ontario, continues to bear the Sam the Record Man name.
In 1976, Sam received the Order of Canada. He was also inducted into the Canadian Music Industry Hall of Fame and the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame, and received the Governor General’s award and honorary doctorates from Ryerson and the University of Prince Edward Island.
On September 24, 2012, Sam Sniderman died in his sleep in Toronto. He was 92 years old.