Remembering Sam “The Record Man” Sniderman

If you’re a Canadian of a certain age, there’s a 99% certainty that Sam Sniderman had something to do with your musical education.  At one point, his Sam the Record Man stores made him the biggest record retailer in the country.  

So ubiquitous were these stores that when people said they were off to buy music, they didn’t say “I’m going to the record store.”  Instead they’d say “I’m going to Sam the Record Man.”

At least that’s the way it was for me growing up in Winnipeg.  A Sam the Record Man store was stationed in malls at all the compass points.  

I remember having an issue with a copy of Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s Greatest Hits that skipped fresh out of the shrink wrap and exchanging it for a fresh one at the Unicity Mall store. (No questions asked, either!)  I remember hearing Rumours from Fleetwood Mac for the first time on the store stereo at the Garden City Mall location.

When I moved to Toronto in 1986, one of the very first things I did was run down to Yonge Street to see the spinning records on the flagship store.  I loved wandering through haphazard layout of the place. And like everyone else, I lined up at Christmas for the big sale with the stupidly low prices.

Sam Sniderman started selling records with his brother Sid out of the family’s radio store in 1937.  The Yonge Street store opened in 1959.  The chain was at its peak in the middle 80s.  That flagship store became part of the greatest strip of record stores in all of North America:  Sam’s, Music World, A&A, Virgin, Tower and a host of smaller indie stores.

Sam was a big supporter of Canadian music.  Releases by Canadian artists were always easy to find in his stores.  And chances are that if you were looking for some Canadian obscura, there would be one or two copies in the racks.

He was given the Order of Canada in 1976 and inducted into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame in 1997.  He worked with the University of Toronto to create a special recordings archive.  He was awarded honorary docotrates from both Ryerson and the University of Prince Edward Island.  He’s in the Canadian Music Industry Hall of Fame.  He was given a Governor General’s Award.  He was involved in every manner of industry association.

But things started going south for Sam’s empire at the end of the 20th century.  The company filed for bankruptcy in 2001 but managed to recover after some savage cost-cutting.  But with the rise of digital culture, they couldn’t hold on.  The big store at Yonge and Gould closed in 2007.  The property was purchased by Ryerson University and the building demolished.  Those spinning records signs are in storage somewhere.

It’s hard to imagine how different Canadian music culture would be had it not been for this homegrown solution to music retailing.  Our country was very fortunate to have a friend in Sam.

Sam Sniderman died in his sleep last night at the age of 92.  He will be missed but not forgotten.

More here.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

6 thoughts on “Remembering Sam “The Record Man” Sniderman

  • September 24, 2012 at 1:30 pm

    Thanks for the write-up Alan.

    Personally, as a kid in a small Northern Ontario town, it was always a major highlight to get to head the 7 hours south to the big city and stop at Sam's with the huge spinning records, and wander through that store. THAT was what a record store was supposed to be: haphasard, twists and turns, and never knowing what section you may wind up in, but also never knowing what new discovery your adventure would take you to.

    Thanks for the flashback.

  • September 24, 2012 at 1:48 pm

    The store was always dingy and stunk, the music was overpriced, and the staff were always rude – like a true record shop was suppose to be.

  • September 24, 2012 at 1:55 pm

    I spent a lot of time at the Sam's in West Edmonton Mall when it opened. Always had a great selection of cassettes!

    Thanks for the update, and for keeping the kids informed about Canada's music veterans!

  • September 24, 2012 at 5:28 pm

    Sam's was an iconic record store indeed. I bought my very first record with my own money there in 1964, the Beatle's Something New. It commanded the strip as a music retailer as you mentioned in a stretch that featured A&A Records (his first real competitor), Sunrise, Music World, Tower etc but when HMV opened their Big Blue Megastore in May 1991, that's when the stakes got really big. I was a Record Peddler devotee in those days but still spent a lot of cash at Sam's. After the HMV opened, I tended to see more of my hard eared dollars spent at HMV. But Sam's was always a great place to lose oneself. May he Rest in Peace, but leave a radio on nearby.

  • September 25, 2012 at 2:22 am

    Thanks for the memories, Alan. When i was a kid and began discovering music on my own, the Sam's at Garden City was the centre of my universe. I obtained my Beatles albums mostly through the Saturday morning door crashers. I'll bet we were probably shopping there at the same time more than once, Keep up the great work!

  • September 25, 2012 at 2:45 am

    In the days when you could ride the subway as a 10 year old (c. 1970), me and a friend would head to "Sam's" on Saturdays (closed Sundays), spend our allowances on a 66 cent "45" and have enough left over for a snack.

    Although time marches on, I'm sorry for the kids of today who will never have those experiences – the days of innocence are gone forever.


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