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Tag Archives: A&A Records Toronto

Fond Memories of Sam the Record Man

                View of Sam the Record Man on Yonge Street – June 23, 1971

Sam the Record Man on Yonge Street in 1971, Toronto Archives, F1526, fl 0003, Item 0025

My earliest memories of purchasing records from Sam Sniderman’s store date from 1958-1959. I lived in the west end of the city, but was working in the British American Oil Company building at Bay and College Streets. I was collecting 78 rpm recordings of brass bands, particularly those in Great Britain. Sam’s was one of the few shops that stocked these disks, as they were not exactly mainstream merchandise. On my way home from work, I sometimes boarded a westbound College Street streetcar and travelled to Sam’s store at 714 College Street, three blocks east of Ossington Avenue. The store was rather jumbled and slightly run down, but the record collection was fantastic.

The store on College Street that I visited was named, “Sniderman Radio Sales and Service.” It had been established by Sam Sniderman’s father in 1929. In 1937, Sam began selling records in his father’s store. After long-playing vinyl disks were introduced in 1948, record sales expanded greatly, and by the late 1950s, Sam’s store had one of the largest collections of recordings in the world. Its main competitor was A&A Records on Yonge Street. Sam Sniderman realized that to truly be able to compete with A&A, he required a downtown location. As a result, in 1959, he rented space on the ground floor of Yolles Furniture Store at 291 Yonge Street, on the west side of the street, south of Dundas Street. However, he did not remain on the site very long.

In 1961, Sam relocated his business to 347 Yonge Street, two doors south of A&A Records. The signage on the front of the store displayed an huge thermometer and barometer, the colour red dominating the display. Sam’s was in the heart of the movie theatre district, where foot-traffic was constant all day and continued into the late evening hours. People who attended the large theatres such as the Imperial or Loew’s Downtown, and those who visited the smaller Biltmore, Savoy or Downtown Theatres, often dropped into Sam’s or A&A’s before journeying home. The shops remained open until midnight, the late-evening hours being the busiest. In 1967, annual sales at Sam’s topped $2 million, the equivalent of about $15 million today.

The year 1969 was an historic year in the history of the store, and is one of the reasons that Sam’s is so well remembered today. Wishing to attract more attention to his enterprise, he hired the best-known sign company in the city – Brothers Markle. It created the iconic sign that became a favourite of many Torontonians. Requiring two months to complete, the neon vinyl sign resembled a huge record disk, approximately 7 metres by 5 metres. The neon tubes flashed on and off, creating the effect that the record was spinning on a turntable. When Sam took over the building to the north of his store, the signage was extended to include another flashing record disk. This brought the total size of the sign to 15 metres by 10 metres. It was visible to everyone who nightly strolled “the strip,” as that section of Yonge Street was known.  The brightly-lit sign became an integral part of the scene.

During the 1970s and 1980s the record business was flooded with sales, and Sam’s rode the crest of the wave. The store’s brand was franchised throughout Canada; at the height of the popularity of LP records, there were 130 outlets. Sam encouraged vocal artists to perform in his store on Yonge Street, and through these events he promoted the careers of artists such as Stompin’ Tom Connors, Gordon Lightfoot, Anne Murray, Guess Who, and Joni Mitchell. Sam continually expanded, occupying the bank building on the corner on the northeast corner of Yonge and Gould, to the south of his store.

However, during the 1990s, sales began to diminish. Sam’s went bankrupt in 2001, but was resurrected in 2002 by his two sons—Bobby and Jason. However, they were unsuccessful in restoring the business as even CD sales were dropping due to the internet. The store permanently closed in in February 2007.

Ryerson University purchased Sam’s and A&A, along with others buildings in the same block. They were demolished to create the Ryerson Student Learning Centre, with the understanding that the iconic Sam’s sign would be resurrected and placed on the new building, since it was designated an historic artefact under the Ontario Heritage Act. It was never installed, as the university claimed that the sign did not suit the modern style of their new structure. However, I sometimes wonder if the condition in the purchase agreement was truly impressed on the architect. It now appears that the university is planning to place the sign above a city-owned building that overlooks Yonge/Dundas Square. Viewed from atop a tall building, its impact would be non-existent, especially with the enormous number of signs that overlook Dundas Square.

Sam died in September 2012 at age 94. He made a wonderful contribution to the life of Toronto and is fondly remembered for much more than the neon sign he left behind.

Sources: news.library.Ryerson.ca—www.globeandmail.ca—torontoist.com—www.thestar.com

Canada Archives e010991186-v8[1]  Can.  Ar. Stompin' Tom Connors e010981574-v8[1]

A cut-out showing Sam Sniderman (Canada Archives, 01099186-v8) and Sam with Stompin’ Tom Connors (Canada Archives, 0110981574-v8)

Fonds 124, Fl.0003, id.0197  A and A Records - Copy

View looking south at the east side of Yonge Street. The Edison Hotel is visible on the southeast corner of Yonge and Gould Streets. It was demolished after its north facade collapsed into the street. Toronto Archives, F124, fl 0003, id 0197.

mid 1980s s1465_fl0020_id0023[1]

Sam’s in the 1980s, when it was one door south of A&A’s. It did not yet occupy Thriftt’s, which separated the two stores. View gazes east from Elm Street toward the east side of Yonge Street. Toronto Archives, F1465, fl0020, id 0023

Dec. 30, 2007, Urban Toronto, Edward Skira,  [1]

Sam the Record Man on December 30, 2007, after it closed for the final time. A&A’s had already disappeared. Photo from Urban Toronto, by Edward Skira.

Series 1465, File 48, Item 1

An aerial view gazing eastward, the east side on Yonge Street in the foreground, showing A&A Records and Sam the Record Man. Toronto Archives, S1465, Fl 0048, id 0001

site of A&A. west to Yonge, 2013

Gazing west toward Yonge Street at the former site of A&A and Sam’s, the construction of the Ryerson Student learning Centre in progress. The low-rise buildings in the background are on the west side of Yonge Street.

DSCN9146

The Ryerson Student Learning Centre on the east side of Yonge Street, north of Gould Street, in 2015. It is where A&A and Sam’s once stood. Personally, I believe that it is architecturally magnificent, but is not appropriate for this section of Yonge Street. It overpowers the historic buildings in the neighbourhood and aesthetically does not fit into the area. In another location, this structure would be an architectural icon.

Below is another viewpoint on the new Ryerson Student Learning Centre, written by Luis Fernandes.

Continuing to read your Toronto blog, I came upon your article on Sam the Record Man. At the end of the article as the Ryerson Student Learning Centre replaced the iconic buildings you say, “It overpowers the historic buildings in the neighbourhood and aesthetically does not fit into the area. In another location, this structure would be an architectural icon.”

I agree in principle with your sentiments. Some time in the future, the citizens of Toronto will regret demolishing those buildings.

However let me provide an alternative point of view to the situation– I have to mention that I have been working at Ryerson for 20 years, after having graduated with a degree– and what follows is insider information, so to speak.

Whenever anyone asked for directions to Ryerson, instead of telling them the street intersection it was on, the most accurate answer was to say, “It’s behind Sam the Record Man”– because everyone knew where Sam’s was. I often gave this direction when asked.

When Sheldon Levy become president of Ryerson, he found out about this “direction” and made it his mission to change this “2nd-class perception” of Ryerson’s place by giving the University a more prominent footprint on Yonge Street.

As a result, people no longer ask for directions to Ryerson anymore. It’s a shame that so much history had to be traded for this recognition. 

A link to a post about A&A Records: https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2016/04/01/fond-memories-of-a-a-records-demolished/

To view the Home Page for this blog: https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/

For more information about the topics explored on this blog:

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2016/03/02/tayloronhistory-comcheck-it-out/

The publication entitled, “Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” was written by the author of this blog. It explores 50 of Toronto’s old theatres and contains over 80 archival photographs of the facades, marquees and interiors of the theatres. It relates anecdotes and stories by the author and others who experienced these grand old movie houses.  

                          cid_E474E4F9-11FC-42C9-AAAD-1B66D852[2]

   To place an order for this book:

https://www.historypress.net/catalogue/bookstore/books/Toronto-Theatres-and-the-Golden-Age-of-the-Silver-Screen/9781626194502 .

Book also available in Chapter/Indigo, the Bell Lightbox Book Shop, and by phoning University of Toronto Press, Distribution: 416-667-7791 (ISBN 978.1.62619.450.2)

                                 image_thumb6_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb[2]    

Another book, published by Dundurn Press, containing 80 of Toronto’s former movie theatres will be released in May, 2016. It is entitled, “Toronto’s Movie Theatres of Yesteryear—Brought Back to Thrill You Again.” It contains over 125 archival photographs and relates interesting anecdotes about these grand old theatres and their fascinating histories.

                        Toronto: Then and Now®

Another publication, “Toronto Then and Now,” published by Pavilion Press (London, England) explores 75 of the city’s heritage sites. This book will be released on June 1, 2016. For further information follow the link to Amazon.com  here  or to contact the publisher directly use the link:

http://www.ipgbook.com/toronto–then-and-now—products-9781910904077.php?page_id=21.

 

 

 

 

 

Tags: ,

Fond Memories of A and A Records (demolished|)

Fonds 124, Fl.0003, id.0197  A and A Records - Copy

In the 1950s, “A&A Records” and “Sam the Record Man,” two stores on Yonge Street, were an integral part of my teenage years. They were the largest and most important retail distributors of vinyl recordings in Toronto. They eventually franchised, allowing outlets to be opened across Canada under their corporate names. A&A and Sam’s were multi-million-dollar businesses in the days when 33 1/3 rpm (revolutions per minute) records were the most common recording format.

In my pre-teen years in the 1940s, music was recorded on 78 rpm disks, made of a brittle material of shellac resin. First introduced in 1898, they were played on wind-up gramophones. After electricity was introduced, record players replaced gramophones and though the sound quality improved in the decades ahead, 78s remained the standard format for recording music. A single song was on one side of the disk, and another on the reverse side, the total playing time being about 3-4 minutes.

In 1947, smaller size records (45 rpm) became available, which were sold in paper jackets. Though not as large as the 78s, they extended the playing time due to their smaller grooves. However, record sales exploded in 1948 when the industry introduced long-playing records (33 1/3 rpm), manufactured of vinyl plastic. These were sold in cardboard jackets. Many retail outlets opened to accommodate the demand for these long-playing records.

Before the internet was invented, in the dark distant decades of yesteryear, Toronto’s movies houses were the centres of entertainment. Located in almost every every community throughout the city, they were within walking distance of almost every households. In my pre-teen years, I faithfully attended movie matiness every Saturday afternoon and was thrilled by the heroes of the silver screen. When I entered my teen years, my parents finally allowed me to travel downtown to the great movie palaces of the city — Tivoli, Shea’s Hippodrome, Imperial, Odeon Carlton, and Loew’s Downtown (now the Elgin). When I wanted to see more than one feature film, for the same price as attending the larger theatres, I visited the Biltmore, Rio, Coronet (Savoy) or the Downtown. Most of the downtown theatres, whether a movie palace or a run-down dive, were within walking distance of Yonge and Dundas, so when I attended a theatre on Yonge Street, I always visited Sam the Record Man and A&A Records. They were located near the corner of Yonge and Gould Streets, which was only one block north of Dundas Street.

The endless displays of records at both stores were amazing. It was said that at its height, Sam’s had almost a million records in his store. Although this might have been an exaggeration, I can verify that the selection was enormous. There were multiple aisles, on either side of them, long rows of counters, with large boxes on them. This was where the records (in their jackets) were stored. Cardboard dividers, with labels protruding above the record jackets (covers), labelled the type of records in the section. They were grouped according to the vocalist, groups, type of music, band, classical, orchestra, country of origin, style of music etc. Recordings were available from all over the world.

As a teenager, I spent countless hours browsing through the various sections of these two shops. I was always amazed at the expertise of their staffs, as no matter what type of record you enquired about, they knew where to direct you. After you made your selection, you took your choice to the cashier at the front of the store. We always looked for bargains, since discounts of 10% to 20% were common on some items. The stores stayed open until midnight, and also remained open on Sundays, in violation of the Lord’s Day Act. The Boxing Day sales were famous, with hundreds of people lining up outside the stores before they opened.

I remember that I sometimes saw a musical at either the Imperial or Loew’s Downtown, and then, purchased the sound track recording at Sam’s or A&A’s. Sometimes, I had already bought the Broadway version of the musical, before the movie of the show had been filmed. Perhaps one or two of the cardboard record-jackets below of Broadway productions will create a few fond memories. They were all available at A&A’s and Sam’s.

DSCN9711  DSCN9712

DSCN9713  DSCN9715

DSCN9718  DSCN9719

A&A Records

In Toronto, Alice Kenner and her husband Mac owned a building at 351 Yonge Street. About the year 1945, with the assistance of Alice’s brother, Aaron, the store opened a book shop. They named it A&A Book Store, using the initial consonant of their first names. It was located on the east side of the street, opposite Elm Street. During the early-1950s, because of the increasing popularity of the new LP records, they added a record section. By the 1960s, record sales became the major portion of their business.

Their main competitor in the city was Sam Sniderman’s store on College Street. To compete with Sam, A&A Records offered special discounts on some recordings, door opening specials, and reduced prices on their Boxing Day sales. A&A carried many types of music, including popular, imported, and classical. The company eventually sold franchises that were located in cities across Canada.

In September 1961, Sam Sniderman (Sam the Record Man) relocated his store to 347 Yonge Street, two doors south of A&A Records. The two competitors were now almost side by side. This was convenient for customers, as they were able to browse the city’s two largest record shops in a single visit. In 1971, Alice and Mac sold their business. The company that bought it expanded the number of franchises and by 1990, there were 260 of them across the country. However, the company went bankrupt in 1993.

Sources: news.library.ryerson.ca/musiconyonge 

For a link to a post about “Sam the Record Man”:

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2016/04/05/fond-memories-of-sam-the-record-man/

looking east on Elm, Dec. 16,  1952  s0372_ss0058_it2379[1]

Gazing east on Elm Street toward Yonge Street on December 16, 1952. A&A Records in visible on the east side of Yonge. Toronto Archives, S 0372, SS 0058, Item 2379.

Tor. Archives, Fonds 200, Series 1465, File 20, Item 15 1]

A similar view looking east on Elm Street. Barbarian’s Steak House is on the right-hand (south) side of Elm Street, where there are Canadian flags. For a link to the history of Barbarian’s, https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2013/09/10/torontos-architectural-gems1860s-houses-on-elm-streetbarbarians-steak-house/ Photo of Elm Street from the Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, S 1465, File 20, Item 15.

         TPL. 1967  ra35-2[1]

A&A Records at 351 Yonge Street in 1967, Toronto Public Library, ra 35-2

           F1526, File 3, It.25  rec[1]

A&A Records when Yonge Street was closed to traffic for a pedestrian Mall (likely the first Yonge Street mall, in 1972). Toronto Archives, F1526, File 3, Item 25.

Tor. Archives, S1465, File 618, It. 33  [1]

Undated photo (likely the 1980s) of A&A Records, photo from the Toronto Archives, S1465, File 618, Item 33

To view the Home Page for this blog: https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/

For more information about the topics explored on this blog:

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2016/03/02/tayloronhistory-comcheck-it-out/

The publication entitled, “Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” was written by the author of this blog. It explores 50 of Toronto’s old theatres and contains over 80 archival photographs of the facades, marquees and interiors of the theatres. It relates anecdotes and stories by the author and others who experienced these grand old movie houses.  

                          cid_E474E4F9-11FC-42C9-AAAD-1B66D852[2]

   To place an order for this book:

https://www.historypress.net/catalogue/bookstore/books/Toronto-Theatres-and-the-Golden-Age-of-the-Silver-Screen/9781626194502 .

Book also available in Chapter/Indigo, the Bell Lightbox Book Shop, and by phoning University of Toronto Press, Distribution: 416-667-7791 (ISBN 978.1.62619.450.2)

                                 image_thumb6_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb[2]    

Another book, published by Dundurn Press, containing 80 of Toronto’s former movie theatres will be released in June, 2016. It is entitled, “Toronto’s Movie Theatres of Yesteryear—Brought Back to Thrill You Again.” It contains over 125 archival photographs and relates interesting anecdotes about these grand old theatres and their fascinating history.

                        Toronto: Then and Now®

Another publication, “Toronto Then and Now,” published by Pavilion Press (London, England) explores 75 of the city’s heritage sites. This book will be released on June 1, 2016. For further information follow the link to Amazon.com  here  or to contact the publisher directly:

http://www.ipgbook.com/toronto–then-and-now—products-9781910904077.php?page_id=21.

 

 

 

 

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