Sam the Record Man/Then and Now
Yonge street used to be fun. But to get a sense of the significance it had to some you’d have to skip back a generation or so to get a feel for what it was. Back in the ’60s & 70s, and possibly before, Yonge street was lined with a different breed of store with more so-called ‘good stores’ along the strip. Simpson’s and Eaton’s were well established and mainstays for generations. The Bay likewise except its store was north at Bloor, not at the heart of the action. Movie theaters and arcades were alive and well. But the overall impression was that it was a fun place to visit on a Saturday night.
Then the Eaton’s Centre was built iin the early ’70s and there’s an argument that can be made that it pulled all of the ‘good stores’ off Yonge street, grouping them all together under the same roof, creating a one-stop-for-shopping destination.
That said, an erosive element seemed to find its way onto the strip with ‘tackier’ and ‘sleazier’ stores springing up in shops that forrmerly housed much finer establishments. It didn’t happen overnight but it did happen. Little by little the street seemed to lose it’s luster. By the time the 90s rolled around the transformation from what it was 20 years earlier would have been appreciable. It was stores like Sam’s that would have served as useful reference points for landmarks that still stood.
And while we’re painting a portrait of a time that was, it bears mentioning here that, around this time, the government changed its criteria for mentally ill patients and a lot of former in-patients were turned out onto the street. Many gravitated to Yonge street.
The strip had long since had an image problem with the words ‘tacky’ and ‘sleazy’ used to descibe some of the shops some of the time but, with prostitutes lining the street, panhandlers and people with social and mental disabilities ever present, and the ever growing sense of frustration and disenchantment from society in general, the notion of taking a walk down Yonge street was much less appealing.
Towards the closing of SamThe Record Man the shop had become iconic not only for the memory value some people were lucky enough to take from it (some of them being twenty or thirty years or older) but it was also a throwback to a landscape that was. A landscape that kept getting harder and harder to recognize.
My favorite timeline for Yonge street would be from 1981 to 1983. That was when I began working at King and Bay (September 1981). Many times after work I would take a walk up Yonge street and the neon signs of Sam’s were a very familiar sight. Shopping there was always enjoyable. It should go without saying that price comparison with the competition was easy due to the close proximity of the storers but thought I’d include it in case it prompts a memory in someone. But how many people living in Toronto can remember having a few albums tucked under their arm, walking up to the cashier, watching them slide the albums into a white plastic bag and hearing a momentary hum of the sealer in the second or two it took to heat seal your purchase closed? Many thousands I’ll bet.
Oh for the good old days.
(Long may they live in our hearts)
I do have a few regrets in life.
I regret that I never saw Gretsky play live.
I regret that I’ve never won a lottery.
And I regret that I never got a keepsake from Sam’s. It spoke to a time and a generation that has long since moved on (if you haven’t then you’re guilty of living in the past. Shame on you. And join the club. It’s a big one.)
Anyone know where a Sam The Record Man button or keychain? Just for memory value.