Monday, September 24, 2012

Sam "the Record Man" Sniderman Passes Away at 92

Known as a driven personality in the Canadian business community, Sam Sniderman push into the marketplace of providing music has made a legend out of the Toronto-born man. Passing away on Sunday at age 92, Sniderman's life is one where he was always in tune with Canada's recording industry.

With his brother Sidney, Sam Sniderman established a radio sales and service store on Toronto's College street in 1929. It would be 1937 when Sam realized the relatively new business of selling record albums. Some reports indicated the entrance into the record business was an attempt to draw the heart of a woman named Eleanor Koldofsky (who later became his wife).

Moving into a new business location on Yonge Street in 1959, that former furniture store would become the flagship for the Sam the Record Man by 1961. As youth-oriented music brought a impressionable group of teenagers to record stores, Sam the Record Man thrived competing heavily the nearby A&A Records store until the mid-1970s. The Yonge street and Gould location for Sam the Record Man would be identified by a giant neon sign featuring two lit discs or records. Behind the spectacle, Sam Sniderman was completely hands-on with his business to the point he personally handled customer complaints. Operating on a business tip presented by his mother, Sniderman maintained fairness and honesty when dealing with the public.

Officially franchising the Sam the Record Man banner in 1969, Sam Sniderman slowly became a part of national Canadian culture as a chain of locations blossomed across the country. By the 1980s, another generation of Canadian young people would frequent not only the Toronto flagship location but others found in stores and malls of other major cities.

Not only a successful Canadian entrepreneur that became a cultural icon for generations of audio connoisseurs, Sam Sniderman was also an activist and supporter of home grown music. His position as the most popular record store in Canada's largest city gave Sniderman considerable leverage to promote the cause of Canadian recording artists. Part of the Federal Cultural Policy Review Committee, a director for the CARAS (Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences) and the Mariposa Advisory committee among many other organizations, Sam Sniderman's flair as well as personality helped pave the way for many Canadian musicians to become hit artists (many with albums selling popularly out of Sam the Record Man locations. The result has been a professional and personal relationship with Canadian music. When the CRTC requirements for Canadian music content increased on the radio in 1971, Sniderman noted sales in his iconic store climbing by 25 percent for national performers. One of Sam Sniderman's favourite performers was Anne Murray. Joni Mitchell has spoken praise for Sniderman's contribution to the fight for CanCom regulations that fostered Canadian music for decades following.

After seven decades worth of providing the best of recorded music produced by Canadian and world talents, Sniderman's Sam the Record Man chain stores would diminish as the digital, online music became the new norm for audiophiles. The sign to the Sam the Record Man Yonge and Gould flagship location's ironic sign was lit for the final time on October 4th 2008. Currently, the location is being adapted to a new Student Learning Centre for Ryerson University. Sam Sniderman had received an honorary doctorate from Ryerson in 1997. Attempts were made since the Sam the Record Man Yonge street store's closure to somehow preserve the site and the famous neon sign. Ironically, one of the channels used to protect the building's advertising facade was Facebook (a method modern Canadian artists use to communicate with fans). Extraordinary steps were taken by the city of Toronto to have the sign declared historically protected. Effective in allowing the sign to be preserved initially, recent activity by Ryerson University has left little understanding for how the neon dual discs will return to Yonge street when the new building is completed in 2014. Aside from the dual discs, a Belleville, Ontario Sam the Record Man-brand store in the Quinte Mall remains as symbols of a once-strong Canadian music retailer. 

Beyond the business of music, Sam Sniderman contributed time and resources to the preservation of audio recordings with the University of Toronto. In 1963, along with his then-wife Eleanor Koldofsky, Sniderman donated several recordings to what would turn into a 175,000 item archive for the Faculty of Music Library. Sniderman also served the city of Toronto by being on the attractions committee for the CNE (Canadian National Exhibition). In his little spare time, Sniderman would enjoy Tennis.

Accolades for Sam Sniderman included the Order of Canada in 1976, a 1997 Canadian Country Music Association Hall of Fame induction, and the Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award at the 1989 Juno awards. Personally, Sam fathered two sons, Bobby and Jason.

Starting from only dreams, Sam Sniderman developed not only his aspirations but the desires of others. After-all a feat many of us desire in life, Sniderman was many positive things to so many people. With what is certain to be several personal tributes, the character of Sam Sniderman survives the brick and mortars of a Yonge street building. Like the music he helped to proliferate and preserve, his legend will live on!

Holmes, Gillian K., Davidson, Evelyn Who's Who in Canadian Business 2001, pg. 773

Ray, Randy, Kearney, Mark. I Know that Name! pg. 254-255 

The Canadian Encyclopedia, Sam Sniderman

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