Sam the Record Man touched Hamilton, too

The late Sam Sniderman has a lost legacy in Hamilton. Neither his store nor the building he owned exist anymore.

Iconic music giant owned downtown property

The Tivoli Theatre changed ownership in 2004, after an interior wall collapsed. (Julia Chapman/CBC)

Even before Sam the Record Man landed in Hamilton, he had an impact on music lovers in the city.

Many Canadians share the story of buying their first record as a kid at a Sam's store or leaving with an armful of deeply discounted albums after a Boxing Day sale.

That's no different for local music institution Mark Furukawa, more commonly know as Dr. Disc.

"When I was a kid, Sam's in Toronto was a destination," said Furukawa. "I actually bought my very first seven inch singles there."

Sam Sniderman, the founder and brainchild behind the iconic Sam the Record Man, passed away at age 92 Sunday night. Sniderman's store touched Canadian cities both big and small from coast to coast, Hamilton included.

A Sam the Record Man store was opened at 114 James Street North in the late '80s. The Sniderman family also owned the Tivoli Theatre in downtown Hamilton between 1989 and 2004.

Sam's iconic store had a presence in downtown Hamilton that stuck, thanks to local businesses.

When Furukawa set up shop in downtown Hamilton in 1991, he chose his location in close proximity to the Sam's store.

"When we opened, there were seven music stores within a half-mile radius," he said. "There was an excitement and we wanted to be there."

Furukawa said Sam's store was "beautiful" with restored ceilings and original hardwood floors. He also employed some of the most music-savvy staff on the street.

Mayor Bob Bratina, a music fan, said he loved shopping at Sam's store just for that reason.

"The store was brilliant," he said. "Whether it was my Balkan folk music, my jazz or my classical music, there was somebody there who could point you to a great product."

Bratina said he met Sniderman in the '80s when he worked as a broadcaster in Toronto.

"My son [Sam] was just born and I said to him, 'I named my son after you,'" Bratina said. "He just laughed."

But the store didn't last long in Hamilton, just until 2004.

"They anticipated the James Street revival a bit early," Furukawa said.

The Sam's store was about half a block north of where people were willing to walk on James Street, he said, and there was limited parking.

"The sad part of it all is the that the changes came, the downtown was in a lull period," Bratina said, "So that was it for the business and of course subsequently, [Tivoli] was not maintained and near collapse."

The Snidermans owned the iconic vaudeville theatre, located right behind the Sam's store until an interior wall collapsed and city officials fined the family $300,000 for demolition costs in 2004.

Before the Tivoli fell into the same dilapidated, abandoned fate as other downtown heritage buildings, the Sniderman's rented it to a local theatre company.

Loren Lieberman operated The Tivoli Renaissance Project out of the theatre from 1998 to 2004.

He often dropped his rent cheques off in person in Toronto, just to have the chance to spend time with Sam and his brother Sid.

"To hang out with Sid and Sam was an absolute privilege," Lieberman said. "They were characters and then some."

Sid was older, with a scratchy voice. Sam was boisterous, very public and made a significant contribution to the music scene. They never made sense as brothers, Lieberman said.

But the brothers both appreciated Hamilton.

"They were here because they believed in this community," he said. "They were heavily invested."

The Snidermans eventually donated the building to the city. The current owner, Belma Diamate, purchased the building for $1.

Despite the Tivoli's downturn, Bratina said the Sniderman family still had a desire to make something out of the downtown property. After the collapse of the Tivoli wall, the Snidermans were interested in replacing it with a strip mall, but the city turned them down.

"The family came and met with us about the development of the site," said Bratina, who was the local councillor at the time. "They actively tried to do something with the property."

Sniderman's passing is bittersweet, said Andrea Horwath, local MPP and former downtown city councillor. He is a lost legend, she said.

"Mr. Sniderman has a place in Hamilton's history by those institutions," said Horwath.

"It's unfortunate that as we acknowledge his passing, we also have to acknowledge that those iconic structures don't exist anymore."

A family funeral is planned for Sniderman Tuesday. A public memorial is expected in October.