Sam 'The Record Man' Sniderman dies

Sam Sniderman, founder of the legendary Sam The Record Man, has died in Toronto. His Yonge Street store was a mecca for music lovers for nearly 50 years.

Anne Murray remembers Sniderman as "gracious, sweet and kind"

Sam Sniderman receives the Ramon John Hnatyshyn Award for Volunteerism from former governors general Ray Hnatyshyn and Adrienne Clarkson in 1999. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Sam Sniderman, the man whose Yonge Street store became a mecca for millions of Toronto music fans, has died.

Sniderman will forever be known by the name he chose for his landmark store — Sam the Record Man.

A statement from the family released early Monday noted that Sniderman will be remembered as a giant in the Canadian music business.

"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 in the statement.

"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." 

Sniderman passed away "peacefully in his sleep, surrounded by loved ones," the statement said. He was 92.

His career in the Canadian music business started when he began selling records out of his brother Sid's radio store on College Street.

In 1959 he opened his record store on Yonge Street. 

One of his sons said Sniderman began selling records for the same reason many young men do things: to impress a girl who was a music lover.

"That story of love has turned into this overall labour of love we all have for this store," he told CBC News in an earlier interview.

The Yonge Street store remained as a flashing neon beacon for music aficionados for nearly half a century. 

Eventually Sam the Record Man stores would dot the country. 

But the Yonge Street store officially closed on June 30, 2007 — a victim of the digital age.

"We can't compete with what's happening in technology," Bobby Sniderman said at the time.

But Sam the Record Man's had already become a cultural touchstone for millions of record fans and would become part of Toronto's music history.

The Yonge Street store became a hangout for everyone who loved music in Toronto.  The store's bins overflowed with everything from the latest pop and rock, to blues, classical, folk and traditional.

Customers would spend hours thumbing through the vinyl records. 

The store's annual Boxing Day sale was legendary. Large crowds would line up, snaking down Yonge Street, for hours before the store opened, hoping to get a bargain. 

Guitarist Randy Bachman said that he was always eager to visit the Yonge Street store.

"Sam Sniderman was truly everyone’s friend," he said in statement to CBC News.

"As kids from Winnipeg all of us in The Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive couldn't wait till our next Toronto visit and go to his store. It was the equivalent of Disneyland for all music lovers. I used to spend afternoons there and then eat dinner upstairs. He will be missed by all and Toronto and Canada will never be the same."

Ryerson to preserve sign

Sniderman's Sam the Record Man neon sign also became a landmark in the city.  It towered over Yonge Street and quickly became a symbol of the street.

Ryerson University eventually acquired the property.  The university also owns the iconic neon sign and has promised to preserve it.

University president Sheldon Levy said that Sniderman was "a wonderful friend and neighbour" to Ryerson for decades and that the school is proud to be developing the site where the famous record store once stood.

"A site that was always a magnet for young people will be revitalized as a hub for this and future generations of young people and retail," Levy said in a statement released Monday

A major promoter of Canadian music, Sniderman received the Order of Canada in 1976.

He was also inducted into the Canadian Music Industry Hall of Fame and the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame.

'Gracious, sweet and kind'

Canadian recording legend Anne Murray said Monday Sniderman will be missed.

"Not only did he sell the records … but he came out to shows … so he was a supporter in every way of the Canadian music industry," she said in an interview with CBC News.

"He was always so gracious, sweet and kind to me," Murray remembered. "Very generous."

Sniderman himself retired from the record store business in 2000.

The family said in the statement that they are planning a memorial service in October. The date will be announced at a later time.

With files from The Canadian Press