Iconic Canadian record retailer Sam Sniderman, whose Sam The Record Man store started in 1937 and grew to 140 stores nationwide at its peak, died Sunday in Toronto. He was 92.
Sniderman opened the first record department with his brother, Sid, inside the family business, Sniderman Radio Sales and Service. In 1959, they relocated to 137 Yonge Street. The store would become a Toronto landmark, primarily due to the massive neon signage, two spinning red "vinyl" records that replaced a previous sign. Sam also became synonymous with the record chain, nicknamed simply Sam The Record Man.
"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," said close family friend Brian Robertson, Chairman Emeritus of the Canadian Recording Industry Association, in a statement issued in a press release on behalf of Sniderman's family. "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."
As word spread in the Canadian music community about Sniderman's passing, postings on Facebook from many music industry veterans showed the enormous fondness they had for him and his chain. Many credit him with kick-starting their music career, either as musicians or in the business. He not only placed Canadian content prominently in his stores, but was integral to the CRTC's implementation of the Canadian Content regulations and a huge supporter of Canada's Juno Awards.
"End of an era with news of the passing of Sam "The Record Man" Sniderman," wrote CBC radio host Jian Ghomeshi. "He was one of the good guys who passionately helped build the Canadian music industry. His stores across the country were a national cultural link...and lining up at 6 a.m. for deals at Yonge/Dundas in Toronto was like a trip to heaven for a music obsessed teen in the 1980s. RIP Sam. And thank you."
"During my years at Capitol Records, I had to work at Sam's on Yonge Street in Toronto every Boxing Day...putting price stickers on albums that were sent upstairs to be sold," wrote Bob Roper.
Said producer David Bendeth: "He was a great supporter of Canadian talent, and had maybe the best record store in history. A great man, with a huge legacy in music."
"Goodbye Mr Sniderman and thanks," wrote Warner Music Canada president Steve Kane. (See more comments below).
Finding it hard to keep up with changing technology and increased competition from HMV, Sam The Record Man's success started to wane in the 1990s. Sniderman retired in 2000.
In 2001, the chain declared bankruptcy. Many of its corporate-owned stores closed. Sam's sons Jason and Bobby assumed management of the Yonge Street store and took over some franchises. Eventually, even those closed, including the beloved flagship store. Ryerson University purchased the property. The double-disc sign was removed in October, 2008.
Sniderman was a Member of the Order of Canada, an inductee of the Canadian Music Industry Hall of Fame and the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame, received the Governor General award and Honourary doctorates from Ryerson University and University of Prince Edward Island.
He is survived by his sons Bobby and Jason, as well as their wives Marlaina and Karen, grandchildren Zachary, Jhase, Cosmo and Echo.
The funeral will take place Tuesday at Benjamin's Park Memorial Chapel (firstname.lastname@example.org). A memorial service will be held in October.
In the press release, the family extended their gratitude to Sniderman's care giver Marilyn Roan in addition to Dr. Robert Wald, the cardiac team at 16 North Mount Sinai, and palliative care team guided by Dr. Leah Steinberg.
In lieu of flowers, please send donations to Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Prince Edward Island Cancer Treatment Centre, 60 Riverside Drive, PO Box 6600, Charlottetown PE, C1A 8T5, 902-894-2027.
A sampling of the many tributes to Sam on Facebook:
I went to Sam The Record Man to buy copies of all the records I was involved with (for good luck and to boost sales ha ha) all the way back to the Bruce Cockburn Tribute Album "Five Guys Named Moe" were part of. It was just cooler than all the other stores. It didn't smack of corporate and had the same hand made vibe that the records had.
One of my best memories is shopping trips to the Golden Mile plaza at Pharmacy and Eglinton and browsing at Sam's with my dad while mom did the groceries. R.I.P. Sam, and my condolences to his family and friends.
Carolyn Victoria Mill
I hitchiked from Halifax to Toronto at 19. Dropped unceremoniously right out front of Sam The Record Man's in 1988, it was my first TO landmark, and confirmed for me that I had indeed landed in the right place. Music was the thing, and Sam's was the place. RIP big guy. the end of an era for sure.
RIP Sam Sniderman...I sure did like skippin school when I was a teen, taking the train to T.O., and hangin at your store! You rock, and you'll be missed...Canadian icon!
If you grew up in Toronto, you have memories of Sam The Record Man. When my dad and I went to see the Leafs (when Wendell Clark was captain) at Maple Leaf Gardens, we'd go the big slice and go to Sam The Record Man. That's where I bought my first tape (!) and my first CD. RIP Sam Sniderman.
One of our industries GIANTS. Sam the Record Man is Gone but NEVER forgotten.
The Camilleri's and the Sniderman's go back a long way. Both my parents knew Sam from back in the very early 1960's ... They even went overseas on record industry trips together ... and spent countless nights out on the town. RIP Sam you were an institution. Thoughts are with the Sniderman family from the Camilleri's.
RIP Sam Sniderman. One of many who learnt a ton about music in your store.
RIP Sam Sniderman, a/k/a Sam The Record Man. If you're from Toronto, of a certain age, you'll recall how important his flagship store was to so many of us, when I was growing up back in Toronto. Those who know me in other towns I've lived have surely heard me speak (ad nauseam) about Sam's and the impact it had on me.
I Heard Sam Sniderman died today! Sam the Record Man told me as a teenager, "Since you buy so many records here, you should think about getting into the music business"
It truly is an end of an era... Rest in Peace Sam 'The Record Man' Sniderman. You created a corner of bliss and excitement for me in my youth. Thanks for being a champion of good music. Sincere condolences to the Sniderman family and friends.
Just heard Sam Sniderman passed away. R.I.P. Sam the Record Man. Spent a LOT of time at that store!
I really knew I'd arrived when Sam Sniderman knew who I was, or at least pretended to! RIP Sam the Record Man. A guy who really loved canadian artists. Even though I didn't grow up in Toronto, I pretty quickly learned to love to go to that mega mecca with the cardboard covered floor down on yonge street and look through those bins.
Sad to hear of the passing today of Sam Sniderman. For years his flagship store, Sam the Record Man on Yonge Street, was the centre of the known universe.