Remembering Sam The Record Man

Sam Sniderman, known to Canadians as “Sam The Record Man,” was a pioneer in the Canadian music industry, starting a family business of record stores that lasted for over four decades and spawned 130 stores across the country.

The flagship store in downtown Toronto had its bright lights dimmed in 2007 when the company shut down due to the changing nature of the music industry – marking the end of an era in music.

Sniderman’s interest in supporting Canadian music started at an early age, when he began selling records out of his brothers radio shop back in 1937, when he was just 17.

His family supported his musical dreams, changing the name of their College Street store Snider Radio Sales to Sam The Record Man in the mid 1950s.

Here’s a commercial for the store from 1987, featuring Sam himself:

In 1961, the store moved to its famous location on Yonge Street, where it quickly became the local hangout for musicians.

While many record stores thrived throughout the decades that Sam’s was in operation, Sniderman’s had the biggest stock of local, obscure, and self-financed records. His knowledge of music was unparalleled, and he could easily find any album a customer was looking for within the 400,000 titles that filled the flagship store.

“Sometimes I got stumped. But more often than not, you could ask me for the most obscure record on the planet and I would disappear for a few minutes and come back with it in my hands. Somebody once tried to catch me by asking for a recording of war music played by U-Boat crews in attack mode during World War II. I found it,” he told the Star back in 2001.

He is also remembered for lobbying to create a stronger Canadian music scene back in the 1960s, when he attempted to create an all-Canadian recording company. He was always willing to give his advice — and money out of his pocket — to help emerging Canadian artists catch their first break.

Bands like Barenaked Ladies credit Sniderman with giving them that break when he stocked their independently made debut album, even referencing the store in their hit song “Brian Wilson” – the “late night record shop” they mention is indeed a reference to Sam’s.

By the end of 2001, competition from HMV, Wal-Mart, and the beginning of downloading meant sales withered, and Sniderman had to file for bankruptcy, closing the store.

In 2002, his sons decided to re-open the store, but the growing presence of digital downloading took its toll, and in 2007 they sold the building to Ryerson University. The school paid $150,000 to have the iconic storefront sign — made of 800 neon lights — dismantled piece by piece before they leveled the building so that it can hang in the building again once it is completed.

His achievements earned him a Governor General’s Award, Honorary doctorates from two universities, the Order of Canada, and he was even inducted into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame in 1997.

“Sam was the last of the great Canadian showmen that were able to establish themselves as household names purely through the force of their personality”, Brian Robertson, a family friend and Chairman Emeritus of the Canadian Recording Industry Association told Global.

“He was a mentor to literally hundreds of Canadian artists and musicians and the Yonge Street record store and Sam’s presence there was the centre of the Canadian music industry’s universe for over three decades.”

Watch a clip of what happened after Sam The Record Man closed in 2007:

Sources: CTV, Calgary Herald, Metro, Global News

Photo ©The Canadian Press/Adrian Wyld

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